Friday, May 11, 2018

Hank Sanders: Senate Sketches #1613 - Unveiling history to heal and lift

  It was informative. It was enlightening. It was painful. It was profound. It was powerful. I am writing about my visit to the opening of the Legacy Museum and the unveiling of the National Memorial for Peace and Justice, both located in Montgomery, Alabama. It is an experience to remember.

  The Legacy Museum was wonderfully presented in holograms, photos, newspaper headlines and articles, plaques, jars of dirt and much more. It traces the pain and degradation and oppression of slavery. It also traces the long reach of slavery and white supremacy through the following: segregation; forced labor; Black codes; lynchings; mass incarceration; police killings; and more. The National Memorial for Peace and Justice documents the scope and brutality of lynching in a unique and powerful way. Each exhibit is informative, enlightening, painful, profound and powerful. Together they are overpowering.

  The Legacy Museum commences with the revelation that tens of millions of African people were violently torn from their homes, their families, their villages, their tribes, and their continent. The exhibits state that two million Africans died en route to the Americas. Other sources estimate that 13 million to 32 million Africans died in what is commonly called the Middle Passage. Whatever the correct number, even the lowest estimate of two million is a terrible destruction of humanity. The Museum is informative, enlightening, painful, profound and powerful.

  The Legacy Museum illustrates the dimensions of slavery: the brutality; the destruction of families; the rampant suffering; the pervasive violence; the massive inhumanity. Children taken from their parents. Parents taken from their children. Man and woman taken from each other. All separated one from another at the whim of their enslavers. Pain routinely inflicted. Violence a way of life. Death imposed at will. Inhumanity propelled by virulent White supremacy. Every institution of our society was deeply involved: family; church; schools; law enforcement; and local, state and national governments. The Museum is informative, enlightening, painful, profound and powerful.

  The Legacy Museum revealed the U.S. Supreme Court legitimatizing White supremacy in the 1857 Dred Scott decision. The Court stated that Black people were subhuman, (a sort of lower species) and, whether slave or free, had no rights that white men are bound to respect. The far-reaching effects of the Dred Scott decision were to endorse and embed White supremacy on the highest and broadest and deepest levels. The Museum is informative, enlightening, painful, profound and powerful.

  The Legacy Museum traces the end of slavery through the implementation of new forms of slavery. White supremacy still reigned as Black people were segregated and subjugated and oppressed in varying ways including imprisonment just to provide free labor for white farmers and businessmen. The Museum documents the state-sanctioned terrorism imposed on a whole people; local authorities complicit in the terrorism, state authorities condoning the terrorism; and national authorities doing nothing to stop the terrorism. It was not hidden. It was out in the open. There were newspaper headlines announcing upcoming lynchings. There were photos of lynchings in newspapers. It was White supremacy at its worse. The Museum is informative, enlightening, painful, profound and powerful.

  The Legacy Museum traces the impact of White supremacy from its beginning down through slavery and on to this very day. After formal slavery was abolished, White supremacy forged an informal slavery through forced labor and Black codes and segregation and lynchings. It continues with mass incarceration and the repeated killings of African Americans by law enforcement. We see the massive efforts to transfigure slavery and segregation into something noble, even with public monuments. The Museum is informative, enlightening, painful, profound and powerful.

  I have barely touched the manifold lessons revealed in the Legacy Museum. I am almost out of space, but I must briefly explore the National Memorial for Peace and Justice. The Memorial is huge. It is vast. It is imposing. It is painful. It is powerful.

  The power of the Memorial is cumulative. The lynchings are categorized by county. The impact keeps growing each time we look at a steel slab with the names of lynched persons listed in a particular county. The impact multiples when we see our particular county. I live in Selma, Dallas County, Alabama. There were 19 lynchings in Dallas County. The names of each lynched person is right there before me to see with my eyes and to touch with my spirit. More than 360 lynchings in Alabama, and more than 4,400 in this country. More than 200 women lynched. Many children lynched. One woman was lynched, and then her little children were lynched because they cried out. There are 800 such slabs hanging in mourning for the thousands of lives taken through lynching. Viewing this memorial becomes personal. The Memorial is huge, vast, imposing, painful, personal and powerful.

  The power of the Memorial grows as we see the number of lynchings piling up: 100; 500; 1,000; 2,000; 3,000; 4,000; and more. The breadth of this state-sanctioned terrorism is wide and deep and massive. Thousands of Black persons were publically lynched while many thousands of Whites, sometimes with their children, looked on in celebration. And absolutely nothing was done to stop or prevent these lynching for nearly a century. When we get to the bottom of the Memorial, we realize that each of the 800 slabs of steel is actually hanging from steel ropes seemingly lynched bodies hanging en masse in coffins. The Memorial is vast, imposing, painful, personal and powerful. It is also unforgettable.

Epilogue – History is powerful. It is powerful when it is the truth. It is powerful when it is distorted. It is powerful when it is a lie. However, there is a special power in the history that carries truth that heals and lifts and lasts.

  About the author: Hank Sanders represents Senate District 23 in the Alabama Legislature.

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