In a series of videos playing throughout the exhibition, we see Bryan Stevenson, the founder of EJI, who stresses that in order to solve racial injustice in our society, we must fully face America’s past. That means adequately remembering, and making visible, the individual stories of those that lost their lives in public killings. His sentiments are underscored by a line from Maya Angelou that appears on one wall: “There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.”
The United States has never undertaken a South Africa-style truth and reconciliation commission, offered reparations to the descendants of slaves, or built any national monument to slavery. In an effort to bring light to bear on the truth of the country’s past, and to honor its victims, EJI has undertaken an ambitious project, placing markers at the locations of every lynching documented in their landmark 2015 report detailing the stories of public, racially motivated murders that took place in the country between 1877 and 1950. (For Stevenson, the word “lynching” includes any such murder that took place in the public realm with the obvious intention of asserting white supremacy and cultivating fear.)
EJI’s larger initiative includes plans to build a memorial and a museum about slavery in Montgomery, Alabama, slated to open in 2018, as well as the gathering of oral histories from victims of racial terror and their descendants, some of which feature here at the Brooklyn Museum. (They also appear in the EJI’s extensive online resource Lynching in America.