Authored by: Mary Mullins Redditt
In our virtual conversation with Equal Justice Initiative (EJI) Director Bryan Stevenson and Presiding Bishop of The Episcopal Church Michael Curry in December to celebrate the Diocese’s 50th anniversary, the theme was remembrance and mercy.
Stevenson shared with us that he lives in the tradition of his formerly enslaved grandparents who embraced Jesus to live with love and forgiveness instead of with hatred and a need for revenge against those who had enslaved them. Those who tuned in, or know of Stevenson’s work to represent the condemned and marginalized, cannot help but be struck by the love, joy and peace he exudes while serving in the most difficult and heartbreaking work imaginable.
Some of that work is encompassed in the Community Remembrance Project, an invitation for counties across the South and the nation to join EJI as a partner in recognizing the more than 4,000 African-American men women and children who were lynched during the Era of Racial Terror in the United States, between the end of Reconstruction in 1877 and 1950. During this time, white mobs murdered African-Americans with impunity for perceived crimes that were never heard in a court of law and were conducted to maintain racial hierarchy, oftentimes with the outright or tacit approval of community leaders. The terror that ensued caused the largest human migration in North American history and continued to evolve through segregation and Jim Crow laws and, today, in mass incarceration. Yet, because we haven’t studied this history and many do not know these stories, this legacy still manifests itself in many ways. Lynching profoundly impacted race relations in this country and shaped the geographic, political, social and economic conditions of African Americans in ways that are still evident. Confronting this painful truth is essential to Go Forward together as God’s people.
Those who have been fortunate enough to join more than a million people to pilgrimage to EJI’s National Memorial for Peace and Justice and The Legacy Museum in Montgomery know it is both a painful and enlightening experience. The Community Remembrance Project is a way for counties where these lynchings occurred to become companions to the Memorial. Each county coalition gathers diverse members, educates its community, collects soil at the sites of those lynched, erects historic markers and hosts a Racial Justice Essay Contest in its public high schools. EJI provides the markers (a $3,000 value), resource materials, a website and $5,000 in scholarship awards, and heavily invests itself with staff time in support. The markers are important tools with which communities can start conversations and confront this history in peace together. In our Diocese, the following counties have either erected markers or are in the process of doing so: Baldwin, Dallas, Etowah, Jefferson, Lee, Lowndes, Madison, Mobile, Shelby (AL), and Escambia (FL).
When talking about the condemned that he serves, Stevenson likes to remind, “we are all more than the worst thing we’ve ever done.” That applies to us as the Church and as Christian people, too. Whether through our actions or our silence, we helped to create a legal apartheid that denigrated and humiliated people for centuries.
But we are more than a community who enslaved, tortured and lynched people.
If we work to end the silence and commit to the truth of our history, we will find redemption and peace.
These lynching victims did not receive justice and many were forgotten until now. Bringing justice for them now will lead to healing and hope for the future.
If you would like to join us on this journey, please contact:
Mary Mullins Redditt
Commission on Racial Justice & Reconciliation