In The News

Bryan Stevenson and the Memorial to Victims of Lynching

On April 26 in Montgomery Ala., the National Memorial for Peace and Justice and the Legacy Museum opened to the public. The memorial and museum are dedicated to illuminating the terror experienced by slavery, lynching and mass incarceration.

The opening celebration of the institutions included two days of scheduled events, including a reception cosponsored by Art for Justice Fund founder Agnes Gund in honor of the Equal Justice Initiative’s Bryan Stevenson, who spearheaded the creation of the spaces.

In a 60 Minutes segment earlier in the month, Oprah Winfrey joined Bryan for a tour of the memorial, where he explained why the lynching incidents of the past reflect a mentality that continues to pervade the criminal justice system today:

Stevenson wants people to understand that lynchings were not just brutal footnotes in history, they reflected a belief in racial differences that reinforced segregation in the 1950s and 60s, and, he says, has resulted in a pattern of unequal justice today.

Bryan Stevenson: And now we live in a landscape where you see young black boys and men being rounded up. One in three black male babies born in this country is expected to go to jail or prison.

Oprah Winfrey: You actually think that slavery and lynchings led to African-Americans being disproportionately represented in the criminal justice system?

Bryan Stevenson: Yes, I do. And I think, actually, it’s not a hard thing to understand, you know, I look at–

Oprah Winfrey: I think it is a hard thing to understand for people who think people get locked up, people are locked up because they commit crimes.

Bryan Stevenson: About 13 percent of the people illegally in possession of drugs in this country are black. That’s about our proportion of the population. You know what percentage are arrested? That’s about 35 percent. That is an echo of this consciousness that doesn’t value the lives of these folks.

PBS News Hour also featured an interview with Bryan and a look at the memorial:

The Art for Justice Fund awarded a grant to the Equal Justice Initiative in 2017 to support representation of marginalized people serving excessive sentences in the South; litigation to end the use of life without parole for minors; and public education about the link between slavery and mass incarceration through the memorial, museum, and other art projects.