A memorial is a statement about what society holds to be important and wants to remember. As Confederate memorials come down in the South, a memorial to lynching has been built in Montgomery, Alabama. It claims to honors victims from the past, but its purpose seems to be to shame whites in the present.
Philip Kennicott of the Washington Post recently reported on what is called “The National Memorial for Peace and Justice.” Mr. Kennicott did not fail to note the memorial’s potential for racial indoctrination: “[T]his ambitious project will force America to confront not only its wretched history of lynching and racial terror, but also an ongoing legacy of fear and trauma that stretches unbroken from the days of slavery to the Black Lives Matter movement of today.” Mr. Kennicott also saw the memorial as a rebuke to Montgomery’s tributes to the Confederacy, scoffing in particular at an ornamental column that called Confederate dead “the knightliest of the knightly race.”
The $15 million memorial is a brainchild of the Equal Justice Initiative (EJI), “a Montgomery-based nonprofit that provides legal representation to indigent defendants and prisoners,” and the Boston-based MASS Design Group. The EJI published a 2015 report called “Lynching in America: Confronting the Legacy of Racial Terror,” which it used to justify building the memorial.
The memorial is a large, open-air structure with 800 coffin-shaped steel boxes hanging from the roof. These represent the 800 counties across 12 states in which there were lynchings between 1877 and 1950. A duplicate of each box is laid out horizontally beside the memorial, and the designers hope each of the 800 counties will claim its box, take it home, and display it in a public place. The idea is that any county that does not claim and display its box will be shamed. As EJI says, “the national memorial will serve as a report on which parts of the country have confronted the truth of this terror [by relocating their monuments] and which have not.”
The memorial also includes sculptures of chained African slaves (see this photo) and a museum of slavery and lynching.
EJI claims all this will lift the “shadow” of “racial injustice” by shining the “light of truth” upon it. However, the result is not likely to be reconciliation, but, as Saul Alinsky wrote in Rules for Radicals, to “rub raw the sores of discontent.” A reporter asked black filmmaker Ava DuVernay, who attended the opening the memorial, how it “might help push the country toward ‘redemption.’” She said that the memorial did not make her feel “redemptive;” it made her feel “upset” and “emotional.” How could it not?
Most media are praising the memorial and predicting the redemption the organizers say they want. The Montgomery Advertiser published an editorial apologizing for covering lynchings in the past. Few commentators have mentioned that whites were also lynched, and the memorial promotes the myth that only blacks got the noose.
The Tuskegee Institute put out a historical survey of lynching called “Lynching, Whites & Negroes 1882-196 8,” which found 4,743 lynchings between 1882 and 1968. Of these, 3,446 victims were black and 1,297 were white. It is common to describe lynching as mobs of howling whites hunting down and killing blacks for trivial reasons or for no reason at all, but such lynchings were rare. Almost all victims had been accused of serious crimes and many—probably most—were guilty.
Needless to say, this memorial says nothing about race and violence today. Those who built it in Birmingham would do well to read the annual state report called “Crime in Alabama.”
It notes that from 2012 to 2016, blacks committed 68.6 percent of the murders in which the offender was known. Since blacks are just under 27 percent of the state’s population, it means they committed murder at 5.9 times the rate for non-blacks. Alabama classifies Hispanics as white, so it is not possible to make a direct black/white comparison of murder rates. Hispanics generally commit crime at higher rates than whites, so it is safe that say that in Alabama, blacks commit murder at well over six times the white rate.
Most murder is intra-racial; both killer and victim are the same race. However, from 2012 to 2016, there were 89 black-on-white murders and 27 white (including Hispanics)-on-black. Given the black/non-black percentages of the Alabama population, this means blacks are 8.8 times more likely to kill a non-black than the other way around.
|Year||Total||Black on Black||White on White||Black on White||White on Black|
“Crime in Alabama” tells us that during the five years from 2012 to 2016, blacks killed 637 other blacks. Over a period of 86 years, from 1882 to 1968, 299 blacks were lynched in Alabama. The memorial to lynching clearly wants us to care deeply about the 299 lynchings from many years ago, but to pay no attention to the 637 murder victims of just a few years ago—or to those that will no doubt be slaughtered in the years to come. The reason is clear: When whites murder blacks, it is a matter of such historical significance it must be memorialized in perpetuity. When blacks murder blacks we must look the other way.
If white advocates try to honor victims of black crime, it is called “hate.” When the group Identity Evropa recently built a small tribute to Justine Damond, a white woman killed by black Minneapolis police officer Mohamed Noor, Mayor-elect Jacob Frey condemned the memorial, saying, “Hate has no place in Minneapolis. Period.”
The media hail the national memorial to lynching as an act of reconciliation. Of course, it is nothing of the kind. The memorial will only stoke black hatred for whites. Its effect on whites is likely to be of two kinds: Ignorant whites may be made to feel guilty for long-ago acts in which they took no part; knowledgeable whites will be further alienated from a ruling elite that cares only about white crimes.
Today, whites are far more likely to be victims of black violence than the reverse. Inciting racial resentment against whites by invoking a skewed vision of history legitimizes retaliatory violence. It also supports the agenda of groups such as Black Lives Matter, which has rioted and looted in cities across the country.
This monument to lynching may call itself the National Memorial for Peace and Justice, but its effect will be to promote more racial tension and more demands for concessions from whites. Far from uniting us, it will serve only to further fragment a country already splitting apart because of race.