The nation’s first memorial dedicated to the victims of lynching opened last month in Montgomery, Ala.
The lynching museum follows the opening of the National Museum of African American History and Culture which opened in September of 2016 in Washington, D.C.
The museum in Washington, D.C. gives an overview of African-American history and culture while the new museum in Alabama tells the history of racial terrorism against Black Americans from emancipation to the 1950s.
Recent headlines show why both museums and the lessons they teach are so desperately needed today.
In the past few weeks a rapper made ignorant and offensive comments about slavery while other public figures trivialized the horrors of lynching by misusing the word.
During a recent segment on TMZ LIVE Kanye West said slavery was a choice, suggesting that slaves were not resistant to their bondage. West’s comments ignore the many ways slaves fought the oppressive system of slavery including escape and organized rebellions.
In the backlash that followed West’s comments some have sought to make excuses for him by either citing “free speech” or by questioning the rapper’s mental health.
West is free to make his comments and others are free to rebuke his reprehensible remarks.
Slaves did not have a choice, just as the victims of the Holocaust did not have a choice.
To blame the victims for the horrible atrocity afflicted on them is offensive.
Unfortunately, West is not alone in his ignorance about slavery.
Last year the Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson likened slaves to immigrants who choose to come to the United States.
Carson, a retired and renowned neurosurgeon, equated voluntary immigration with brutal and inhumane involuntary servitude.
Last September, Alabama Republican Senate candidate Roy Moore said during a campaign rally that the last time America was great was during slavery.
“I think it was great at the time when families were united — even though we had slavery — they cared for one another,” Moore replied, according to the Los Angeles Times. “Our families were strong, our country had a direction.”
In 2002, Republican Senate leader Trent Lott made comments looking back favorably at the segregated South — which ended up costing him his position.
Along with comments about slavery, some have equated misbehavior and criminal conduct with lynching. R. Kelly says boycotting his music because of the sexual abuse allegations against him amounts to a “public lynching.”
West has tweeted lynching imagery to assure he won’t be silenced. Bill Cosby’s conviction has also been called a lynching.
It is demeaning to equate the horrors of lynching with an argument against unfair prosecution, boycotts and criticism.
More education is desperately needed.
The National Memorial for Peace and Justice opened to the public on April 26 in Montgomery. The museum commemorates 4,400 Black people who were slain in lynchings and other racial killings between 1877 and 1950.
The museum was created to “tell the history of racial inequality, of slavery, of lynching, of segregation that motivate people to say, ‘Never again,’” said Bryan Stevenson, the executive director of the Equal Justice Initiative which helped found the museum.
“Black people were typically lynched in communities where there was a functioning criminal justice system,” Stevenson said in an interview in the Washington Post. “Black people were lynched for things like walking too close to a white woman, for asking for better wages, for preaching equality ... So when we talk about racial terror lynchings, we’re talking about the racialized violence that was directed at African Americans, following emancipation, to reinforce racial hierarchy, to reinforce white supremacy.”
When public figures make comments minimizing the horrors of slavery, romanticizing segregation and trivializing lynching they must be rebuked for their dangerous attempt to revise history.