The Legacy Museum and The National Peace and Justice Memorial

A Walk into History

For the next two days, I will be in Montgomery, Alabama for the opening of two new museums commemorating the African American experience in America and attend the Justice Summit.

DAY ONE

April 25, 2018

The first thing that I notice as I exit the Montgomery Regional Airport is a sweet, distinctive smell in the air.

Having lived in Savannah, Georgia, for couple of years, I recognize it immediately. It is the smell of the South, vastly different from the air in Nevada (my current home state) and New York (my place of birth).

I can’t pinpoint its source–perhaps the spring plants native to southern Alabama: Hubricht’s Blue Star, southern blazing star, cream wild indigo, or foam flower.

The airport is surprisingly quiet with only two police officers greeting travelers and directing them to taxis. There is none of the crazy bustle of big city airports. In fact, I see only four or five passenger cars stop for pick-ups. No honking. No yelling. No cars three deep.

My shuttle driver, Nakeil, a native of Montgomery, greets me warmly and asks if this is my first trip to Montgomery. It is.

As we drive to the Hampton Inn Montgomery, he says, “I’m gonna give you a bit of history. We are traveling the same road that Martin Luther King walked from Selma to Montgomery.” He points out a highway sign, “Selma to Montgomery National Historic Trail.”

It is one thing to see the march in old television footage; it is quite another to see it in person. I realize just how long that 1965 walk was and admire the commitment and fortitude of those who trekked 54 miles along the then two-lane highway, facing crowds of hostile whites and law enforcement officers.

Nakeil explains that there are markers along the way that tell where marchers stopped to rest, to eat, or to sleep. “I asked my father if he had marched, but he said that he couldn’t because he was working in ‘the fields.’ ”

Cotton fields.

His father and the other cotton pickers watched the walkers from afar. “He told me that no-one realized the significance of the march at the time.”

Montgomery is small, but “full of history,” he tells me. It is home to the Civil Rights Memorial and the Rosa Parks Museum at Troy University.

I am here to attend the opening of two new museums: The Legacy Museum: From Enslavement to Mass Incarceration and The National Memorial for Peace and Justice, in remembrance of the “4400 African American men, women and children hanged, burned alive, shot, drowned, and beaten to death by white mobs between 1877 and 1950.”

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Photo by Wista Jeanne Johnson

The new museums are the brain child of Bryan Stevenson, founder and Executive Director of the Equal Justice Initiative (EJI), located in Montgomery, which is “committed to ending mass incarceration and excessive punishment in the United States, to challenging racial and economic injustice, and protecting basic human rights for the most vulnerable people in American society.”

Stevenson has received numerous awards, including the MacArthur Foundation “Genius” Award and the National Medal of Liberty (ACLU).

His 2014 book, Just Mercy, a New York Times bestseller, chronicles the story of the EJI, the people it represents, and the necessity of confronting injustice.

Ironically, some of the employees at the airport hotel, including one black woman, Makeeta, admit that they had no knowledge of the museums until folks started booking rooms. Nonetheless, she hopes to take her young daughter soon because “she likes to learn things.”

That’s why I am here.

There is still so much to learn about the African American experience in America, the legacy and implications of mass incarceration, and the contributions a formerly enslaved people.

 

 

 

  

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Criminal Justice News

New museums document mass incarceration and lynchings in America; the “best” and “worst” criminal justice news of 2017; a community campaign

One Mother’s Voice: In the Name of Justice” (OMV) podcast has moved to SoundCloud, where you can find a selection of previous episodes.

My Mission

I am the mother of a now-deceased son who spent too many years lost to the streets and New York State prisons.

Those were hard years for me. I did not fully understand the impact of his incarceration on me until many years later. Emotionally numb most of the time, I constantly battled anxiety, fear, helplessness, and worry. All that ended with his death in prison in 1999.

Consequently, I know firsthand how scary having a son in prison can be. Most mothers simply don’t know how to deal with their feelings, the prison system, or the ordeals of their incarcerated sons.

Most mothers have limited resources to hire lawyers or little power to challenge decisions that often lead to hardship for the family (such as relocating inmates without notice to families or warehousing them long distances from their communities).

If there are allegations of mistreatment or abuse, most mothers feel helpless to do anything about it.

Understanding these realities, I use my experiences and my voice to support, educate, and empower mothers with sons in prison.

No mother has to suffer in silence or isolation. You have a platform with One Mother’s Voice: In the Name of Justice.

Top Five OMV Episodes for 2017

Between 2015 and 2017, we uploaded 41 episodes, including “Inmates: Prisoners of Corporate Money-makers;” “Prisoner Health (S)care: from bad to worse;” “The Sorry State of the Public Defender System;” and “Criminal Justice Money Traps.” 

  1. A Tribute to Venida Browder
  2. Six Criminal Justice “Must Reads”
  3. End Solitary Confinement for Kids
  4. Island in the River
  5. Mother of Inmates Suffer in Silence

Best Criminal Justice News

The Legacy Museum: From Enslavement to Mass Incarceration and The National Memorial for Peace and Justice will open on April 26, 2018 in Montgomery, Alabama (at different locations). The Museum is housed on a site where former slaves were sold; the Memorial commemorates 4400 lynchings (between 1877 and 1950) documented by the EJI.

Bryan Stevenson, executive director for the Equal Justice Initiative (EJI), says that the Museum will feature first-hand accounts of enslaved people; compelling visuals, and fine art pieces from renowned African-American  sculptors, Titus Kaphar and Sandford Biggers. Stevenson is the award-winning author of the New York Times‘ bestseller, No Equal Justice, and a recipient of the MacArthur Foundation “Genius” Prize.

Worst Criminal Justice News 

In December 2017, Erica Garner, 27, daughter of  Eric Garner, fell into a coma and died. Her father died from a choke-hold at the hands of New York City police officers in 2014 after they confronted him about selling loose cigarettes in front of a Staten Island convenience store.

In the aftermath of his death, Erica became a vocal critic of police brutality. Sadly, we lost a dynamic, outspoken advocate for social and criminal justice too soon.

Looking Ahead

Outreach is the focus of our efforts for 2018. To that end, OMV is launching “Heart-to-Heart,” a series of talks at local churches and organizations in Las Vegas about mass incarceration and its impact on families and communities.

Likewise, we are seeking mothers with sons in prison to share their experiences on the podcast.

Some upcoming topics that we will explore are:

  • The health implications for mothers with sons in prison
  • The stigma of having a son in prison
  • Mothers who became criminal justice advocates (Mattie L. Humphrey, Sherry Grace, Rhonda Robinson, and Venida Browder)

If you are a mom with a son in prison, contact me @omvforyou@gmail.com.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Upcoming Event

New museum highlights our nation’s history from enslavement to mass incarceration

As an ardent proponent of criminal justice reform, it is a happy coincidence that my birth month coincides with the April 2018 opening of an historic museum in Montgomery, Alabama, The Legacy Museum: From Enslavement to Mass Incarceration. The impetus for my advocacy grew out of the nearly 16-year incarceration of my son–now deceased—and its painful and lingering effects on him and my family.

The Equal Justice Initiative (EJI), under founder and Executive Director Bryan Stevenson (winner of the MacArthur Foundation “Genius” Prize, the National Medal of Liberty, the Ford Foundation Visionaries Award, and countless other commendations), created the museum to highlight America’s long journey from slavery and segregation to mass incarceration and excessive punishment.

According to the EJI:

“This museum is designed to change the way we think about race in America. The United States has done very little to acknowledge the legacy of genocide of Native Americans, enslavement of black people, lynching, and racial segregation. As a result, racial disparities continue to burden people of color; the criminal justice system is infected with racial bias; and a presumption of dangerousness and guilt has led to mass incarceration, excessive punishment, and police violence against young people of color.”

The site of the museum is a former slave warehouse, “where tens of thousands of enslaved people were trafficked at the height of the domestic slave trade.” It will re-create of a former slave house, follow ten generations of enslaved people and their descendants, and feature interactive and virtual reality exhibits. Many artists, performers, musicians and filmmakers have contributed their creative talents to the museum.

Without a doubt, a visit to The Legacy museum is Number One on my newly-created Bucket List.