By Hailey Prevett, ’19

The trip was amazing in so many ways. It was at times heartbreaking and at times made me feel very hopeful. In the Legacy Museum, there is one exhibit that is a wall of jars containing soil from the site of lynchings throughout the country, labeled with the victim’s name and the date and location of the lynching. This exhibit was among the most saddening for me because I recognized so many places on the jars. There was one jar from my hometown in southern Virginia. The closest city to me was also represented; four jars labeled with one date. Two of the victim’s names were unknown. Based on the history of where I am from, I was not surprised that lynchings had occurred there. But seeing the soil somehow made it much more concrete for me. I found myself circling back to this exhibit the entire time we were there at the museum. It made me really sad and I guess almost ashamed of where I am from.

The National Memorial for Peace and Justice was heartbreaking because of how overwhelming the iron pillars that listed the counties and names of lynching victims were. There are so many that you literally cannot see them all at once. When you are walking through and looking at them, it is impossible to fathom the number of atrocities. The number of people who lost their lives because of the color of their skin. I feel like there is no way to even wrap your head around that kind of tragedy.

When we went to Lowndes County, it was incredibly saddening to see the conditions that people live with every day. This was especially pronounced at one home that was literally falling apart and there was raw sewage being discharged directly onto the yard.

As I said though, I also left Alabama filled with hope. Despite all of the atrocities that have been committed against people of color, communities remains so resilient. There were so many passionate activists there that I know will change the world for the better. I remember one thing Bryan Stevenson said about the opening of the museum: “Some people may not be ready for this, but now is the time.” Before this, he had spoken about the civil rights movement and how much has changed since then because of people who were courageous enough to challenge the status quo.

We had the chance to hear speakers—and in some cases even meet—people who are doing this today. Bryan Stevenson is doing this in law, Ava Duverney is doing this in entertainment, Catherine Flowers is doing this for Lowndes County, the list could go on and on. It also made me feel hopeful to be surrounded by people who want to see the status quo changed. Whether they are actively campaigning for this or not, it was incredible to be around people at the summit, at the concert, at the museum and monument, in Lowndes County who want to see us continue to move forward. With all of the divisive rhetoric going on lately, I sometimes find it easy to get discouraged and feel like things will get worse and not better. But when I was there at the summit, I felt very hopeful for the future.