Written by Jasmine Sinclair Wilson
This summer, WonderRoot will unveil a groundbreaking, large-scale arts initiative elevating remarkable moments in Atlanta’s struggle toward social justice. Leading up to our announcement of this project we are using this blog to highlight the rich relationship between artistic expression and issue-based advocacy. The stories lifted up here will cross generations and artistic media to demonstrate the breadth of art’s tradition of fighting for civil and human rights. This incomplete archive of arts and advocacy will emphasize that one cannot exist without the other, as well as explore art’s role as a lightning rod for change-minded people from seemingly disparate communities.
Starting this week, the WonderRoot Arts + Advocacy Blog will be taking a trip through each of the six regions in the US: the Southeast, Midwest, Southwest, Northeast, and Pacific West. Each week we will be focusing the artists and art projects within these regions to dive deep into their work and its impact on their communities. For our first regional focus we are starting with what we know best: the Southeast. To kick off this trip, we are headed west to Montgomery, Alabama.
On April 26, Equal Justice Initiative (EJI) Executive Director Bryan Stevenson and his staff revealed to the public their National Memorial for Peace and Justice and The Legacy Museum: From Enslavement to Mass Incarceration. EJI’s opening of their Memorial and Museum in Montgomery, Alabama signifies a visual representation of racial injustice and proves vivid, revolutionary and thought provoking.
These new installations demand conversation and accountability for the acts of terrorism committed against enslaved African Americans in Montgomery and throughout the US. The National Memorial for Peace and Justice is the first of its kind, dedicated to the lasting legacy of violence against African Americans who endured slavery, lynching, and Jim Crow segregation. Created in partnership with the Mass Design Group, this six-acre memorial confronts these issues through the installation of 800 corten-steel monuments rising six feet high commemorating victims of lynching. EJI has designed the memorial to encourage visitors to “reflect on America’s history of racial inequality.”
They have included an identical field of monuments surrounding the memorial to be claimed and installed in the surrounding counties where lynching occurred. Over time, EJI aims to utilize these monuments as a “report card” or roll call for each county that has yet to address lynching.
The newly established Legacy Museum works in conjunction with the National Memorial to serve EJI’s mission. EJI staff offer both sites as spaces for conversation to take place between those who have done “very little to acknowledge” outstanding racial issues within the American history canon. An 11,000 square foot call to action, this museum displays extensive “research into the history of racial injustice and the narratives that have sustained injustice across generations” and offers the prospect to discuss these issues openly. Even the land on which the museum was built plays a role in the conversation given its location on the same grounds where enslaved African Americans were imprisoned in a former warehouse in Montgomery, AL.
As of April 26, however, visitors’ footsteps at the museum will carry new meaning, using the grounds as a foundation to become aware of the tools available to combat these issues. Their steps will also be markers for the museum’s location as a midpoint between a historic slave market, main river block, and train stations where slaves were trafficked during the slave trade in Montgomery.
The Legacy Museum and the National Memorial for Peace and Justice use sculpture, design, and interactive media to exemplify the legacy of past and present racial injustices in the US. Ghanaian artist Kwame Akoto-Bamfo and American sculpturist Dana King evoke the deep, ancestral agony and subhuman treatment of enslaved African Americans in the US through their work at the museum. King’s sculpture at the National Memorial for Peace and Justice commemorates the women who led the Montgomery Bus Boycott and Akoto-Bamfo’s sculpture depicts seven African men, women, and children chained in bondage at the Legacy Museum. With these sculptures in place, the Memorial and Legacy Museum stand together as a physical manifestation of the lasting legacy of racist violence, demanding truth and healing around these issues. For those interested in seeing the museum and memorial in person, please visit the Equal Justice Initiative website for ticketing information and EJI programs.
Jasmine Wilson is a Communications Intern with WonderRoot. She enjoys writing about the arts and reports on a variety of topics for our Arts + Advocacy Blog. She can be reached via email.