SermonsLegacy Museum

Our Great Southern Civil Rights/Visiting Friends Tour IV

Montgomery and Selma

Sculpture outside the Memorial for Peace and Justice.

We could easily have spent a week in Montgomery, Alabama and the area around it, but we decided to focus on the Legacy Museum and the Memorial for Peace and Justice (aka “The Lynching Museum.”) Like others who have visited, we had trouble finding the words to describe the museum. The designers take you from the Middle Passage (and you feel like you’re underwater as you read about it) through the error of racial terrorism following Reconstruction. You continue to the present New Jim Crow in our prison system, where you can sit in a chair behind a glass panel and talk to real people about what brought them to prison, and what burdens they are bearing.

In the museum, we found the jar of soil that Rabbi Tom Guttherz and his community brought from the spot where John Henry James was lynched (see Part II) on a giant wall of jars, but we weren’t allowed to take pictures of that or anything else in the museum. And the gift shop didn’t have postcards that captured some of the amazing exhibits, so that was a bummer.

We were allowed, however, to take pictures in the memorial, which records all the lynchings that took place in southern counties.

Outside the Memorial
Inside the structure, they use the vertical rusted steel monoliths for the counties and place them in seemingly random order. Outside, they lay them on the ground and put them in alphabetical order by state. I thought it appropriate to record the lynching in my own state.
My first attempt to use the panoramic photo feature on my phone–not successfully. For those who cannot make out the words, it is dedicated to lynching victims whose deaths went unrecorded.
To me, it makes sense they used poets and artists to provide commentary since, in many ways, words fail to describe the museum and the memorial.

That evening, we had dinner with the family of Jalil’s daughter, which provided a much-needed shift in mood and a good space to talk about our visit to the museum and news events. Antoinette, or “Toni,” is a fabulous cook, and we were way too full of food and fellowship by the time we left. We were a little distressed to learn that Antoinette and her daughter Amina were making $2.50 an hour working as servers.

Why did I choose two nearly identical photos? The growing hilarity on little Ayden’s face. Counterclockwise: Me, Antoinette, Ayden, Selmar (Antoinette’s husband), and Michael.

The next day in Selma was quite different. The museums and historical markers were less sophisticated but more accessible. The Legacy Museum almost felt as though it came down from On High. You definitely saw the work of dedicated human volunteers keeping the witness of Bloody Sunday and the marches across the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma alive.

Not sure, but I think the Lowery’s monument stole the quote from Shirley Chisholm.
From Joshua 4:21-22, “When your children shall ask you in [the] time to come what mean these stones, then you shall tell them how you crossed over.”
On the park side of the Edmund Pettus Bridge was a little gift shop with a mural painted on its side. It was less slick and professional than the other museum gift shops we visited, but a lot more interesting.

After the park, we made our way across the bridge and explored the city of Selma.

You can’t escape the poverty in Selma. The public housing project across the street from his official historical marker is in significantly better repair than the houses in the neighborhood around it.

We walked back over the bridge again and found a small, unassuming museum open across the street from the gift shop. Unlike the high-tech museums we had visited, we could take as many pictures as we wanted in this one.

Some of the footprints of those who walked across the bridge on Bloody Sunday.
Records of the people arrested in Selma along with a reconstruction of a cell in which they were imprisoned.

Returning from Selma to Montgomery, we stopped at the Rosa Parks museum an hour before it closed. We could only take pictures of the sign out front and her statue in the foyer.

We finished our long day amongst the cloud of witnesses at Connie Bs, which had some darn good soul food. I just ordered sides.