From slavery to police abuse, new museum documents U.S. history of racism

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Washington (AFP)

Slavery, lynchings, segregation, mass incarceration and police abuse: a museum that opens on Friday in the state of Alabama traces a direct link between the racist past of the United States and the inequalities of today.

The Legacy Museum in the state capital of Montgomery is housed in a building where African captives were once held before being sold as slaves.

“This is a museum on the history of America, with an emphasis on the legacy of slavery,” Bryan Stevenson, director of the Equal Justice Initiative, an advocacy organization told AFP. civics in Alabama.

“I can’t think of another institution in America that has more profoundly shaped our economy, our politics, our social structures. And our character.”

“Our understanding of slavery is very, very incomplete,” he said.

“Our understanding of slavery is very, very incomplete,” says civil rights activist in Alabama Equal Justice Initiative / AFP document

It is this information void that the Legacy Museum aims to fill, while urging Americans to campaign against the inequalities that persist today, according to Stevenson.

“The only way to move forward in this country is to engage both our minds and our hearts in a serious commitment to truth and justice to eliminate racial injustice,” he said.

The museum, inspired by the memorials of the Holocaust in Berlin or apartheid in Johannesburg, offers an immersive experience: on arrival, visitors board a ship crossing the Atlantic, witnessing the suffering of future slaves. .

Another space is dedicated to the violence suffered by slaves, including sexual violence.

A wing is dedicated to the thousands of victims of the lynchings of black Americans, which took place between 1877 and 1950. The National Lynching Memorial, located next to the museum, is dedicated to the same subject.

The museum also bears witness to the “humiliation of segregation” in the South after World War II, Stevenson said.

Victims of legal injustice tell their stories at the Legacy Museum
Victims of legal injustice tell their stories at the Legacy Museum Equal Justice Initiative / AFP document

Stevenson’s organization provides legal assistance and advocacy for those wrongly convicted of crimes, a common problem for African Americans.

The group managed to acquit several people who had been sentenced to death. In the museum, visitors can listen to them tell their story.

The museum is part of a national report on race and racism in America, which has escalated since the murder of African American George Floyd by a white police officer in May 2020.

Stevenson lamented that the efforts are meeting resistance from conservatives. Still, he was optimistic.

“The good news is that we have the ability to overcome this fear, to overcome this preference for silence,” Stevenson said. “I believe we will make that choice.”


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