Soul wrenching

We finished a long three week trip as we visited family. It was a great trip filled with friends, family, and conversation. There was one last stop I needed to make before we made it home.

I had hoped to begin our trip with a visit to the National Civil Rights Museum in Memphis. They were closed on Tuesday, the day we came through, so we hit another site, but I was wanting to show my wife the Lorraine Motel and the exhibits now there in that historic place.

On our way home I wanted to stop in Montgomery, so I made sure some sites were open before our final stop. Thankfully, there were some significant places open. The one I had to see was the National Memorial for Peace and Justice. Along the way I discovered the National Civil Rights Memorial as well. These were places I knew I needed to see, in some way, before heading home.

The National Civil Rights Memorial is dedicated to 40 people who gave their lives for the cause of Civil Rights in the 50s and 60s. There were so many more who lost their lives. These were known names.

Emmett Till would have been 78 on July 25. He was killed at the age of 14. Medgars Evers was memorialized here. Many others, black and white, male and female.

Maya Lin designed the outside memorial. She is the designer of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C. It is a moving design. The flat top of the circle has the names of the martyrs. The words of Martin Luther King, quoting from Amos, are on the wall with water flowing over them.

National Civil Rights Memorial

Since reading Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson and hearing of the “national lynching memorial” (which is the National Memorial for Peace and Justice), I wanted to get to Montgomery to see it. Outside the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, I have not been so moved in my soul.

It is sacred ground. Hanging in a walk-through memorial are giant slabs of steel. Each slab generally represents a county in the U.S. that has at least one recorded lynching. There are over 4400 known documented lynchings in the U.S. As you walk through these slabs, you are at first “even” with this slabs. They are huge. As you walk further into the memorial, the floor slopes so you are beneath the slabs. It is the effect of being witness to a hanging.

It is soul wrenching.

I stood there beneath those slabs like I was beneath a hanging black man. I was overwhelmed with grief.

It is like standing beneath a hanged man.

Along the walls in one part were quick snippets of lynched black Americans in different parts of the states. My hometown had a lynching I didn’t even know about.

And as far north as Duluth, Minnesota, there is record of lynchings.

We have a national sin and it needs to be confronted and confessed. This is a sobering place to visit and it SHOULD be visited. We need to weep and mourn.

And we need to confront racism. Continually. On every front. From Washington, D.C. to the border with Mexico, we need to confront it. Call it out. Demand better. That this is still a debate only demonstrates our deep problems.

Racism touches us all. And it needs to be continually called out. This is a place where it is called out boldly and it should be on everyone’s “must see” list in the United States. May we walk through this sacred ground and cry out for mercy. Let us leave with a determination to end this sin in our nation.

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