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Healing Wounds of the Past through Lynching Memorial

This op-ed was published by The Clarion-Ledger on May 6, 2018.

On Thursday, April 26, I had the privilege of attending the opening of The National Memorial for Peace and Justice in Montgomery, Alabama. Pictures cannot do the memorial justice. Standing near the site of a former market for auctioning slaves, and viewing the suspended steel columns, each representing a county where lynchings took place, was such a powerful experience. I found it impossible to take in this view without reflecting on the meaning of the violent actions carried out by white Americans, intent on terrorizing the black portion of our population because of the color of their skin.

The memorial, created by the Equal Justice Initiative, focuses on the violence perpetrated by white people against black people from 1877, when Union troops left the South, up to 1950. The horrors of lynchings went beyond the physical violence. White people normalized these horrific events as entertainment and often brought their children to watch. Oftentimes, photographers sold postcards as keepsakes after the event. For the over 4,000 black Americans murdered in this way, and for black Americans in general, lynchings represented the greatest form of humiliation and dehumanization. These lynchings weren’t confined to the Southeast, either. As I looked through the memorial, I saw names from New York, Illinois, and Indiana, all Union states during the Civil War.

Time has not healed the wounds created by this violence. The memory of lynching carries on in the form of injustices such as mass incarceration and police shootings. In America, lynchings have happened, are happening now, and will continue to happen unless we address and recognize these atrocities.

As a Jewish American, I look to the steps Germany has taken to recognize and atone for their actions during the 20th century. In particular, I think of Berlin’s Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe, which partially inspired The National Memorial for Peace and Justice. As the brother of Andrew Goodman, a young white man who suffered the same fate as these thousands of black individuals, I know the wounds can never be fully healed, but we must try. I look to this memorial as one way to atone for the racist actions of terrorists who fought to preserve a hateful way of life.

The National Memorial for Peace and Justice is, I hope, a step forward towards healing. If visitors to the memorial keep an open mind, they’ll realize that until black lives matter, no lives do. Until we can all face the reality behind our country’s history and rightfully feel shame and remorse, the wounds black Americans have suffered will never heal.

About the Author

David Goodman is the brother of Andrew Goodman, the President of The Andrew Goodman Foundation, and a member of its Board of Trustees.