Bryan Stevenson, the nation’s premier lawyer on mass incarceration and the death penalty, says slavery never ended. It just evolved.
I just spent two days with 50 other faith leaders at Stevenson’s Equal Justice Initiative in Montgomery, Ala., where Bryan emphasized four basic essentials for criminal justice reform in America: 1) Proximity to those most impacted, 2) Changing the narrative, 3) Hope replacing hopelessness, and 4) Committing ourselves to uncomfortable things, because injustice is never overcome by just doing comfortable things.
We went deep underneath these issues to our foundational American history of how white supremacy served as justification for slavery, a white supremacy that continues to this day. We spoke of the narrative of racial difference, white supremacy, and the accompanying white privilege as a disease that we have all been infected with in America, and that only telling the truth about race in our country will set us all free.
Together, we made pilgrimages to two nearby sites where black men were lynched. We held memorial services in memory of their lives on the land where indifference to their humanity killed them. Under Bryan’s leadership, the Equal Justice Initiative is planning memorials at every lynching spot across the country to help us remember the terrorist racial violence that sprung from and enforced white supremacy. A national museum is also being planned in Montgomery to remember and honor those untold thousands who were lynched. Soil from each site is being collected and memorialized in glass jars marked with each person’s name, birth and death year, and the town of the lynching.
We pilgrimaged to a lonely spot on the outskirts of the city and another site in the town of Wetumpka. We dug dirt from the holy ground and placed it in those jars. We remembered and prayed for those lynching victims by name. It was a powerful and moving experience for all.
But perhaps the most impactful moment over our two days was a visit from Mr. Anthony Ray Hinton who spent 30 years in solitary confinement on death row in Alabama for a crime he did not commit …
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