It stopped me in my tracks. On Sunday, we visited the Peace and Justice Memorial in Montgomery, Alabama. It pays tribute to the 4,000 plus Black people who were lynched in America during a campaign of racial violence that has changed over time, but never really ended.
Above your head as you walk through the memorial, large steel beams are suspended, engraved with the names of the victims and the county in which they were lynched.
Along the walls are small panels that detail the circumstances of individual lynchings:
Private James Neely was lynched in Hampton, Georgia in 1898 for complaining when a white storeowner refused to serve him.
John Stoner was lynched in Doss, Louisiana, in 1909 for suing the white man who killed his cow.
Frank Dodd was lynched in DeWitt, Arkansas, in 1916 for annoying a white woman.
Henry Patterson was lynched in Labelle, Florida, in 1926 for asking a white woman for a drink of water.
Elizabeth Lawrence was lynched in Birmingham, Alabama, in 1933 for reprimanding white children for throwing rocks at her.
All tragic. All heartbreaking. But then this…
William Wardley was lynched in Irondale, Alabama, in 1896 because local white merchants wrongly thought his money was counterfeit.
I stared at it for a good long time, as I stood below the names of thousands of others. The facts of the case were not exactly the same, but they were eerily similar to the string of events that ended George Floyd’s life.
Separated by 125 years, similar tragedies unfolded for George and William. But today, the police officer who ended George Floyd’s life was found guilty on all counts.
As Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison said, he wouldn’t call it justice, but he would call it accountability, and that is a step in the right direction.
Our work is not over. But perhaps now our eyes are open.
Perhaps we have turned a corner where more of us can see and hear the pain and the frustration that our brothers and sisters have been talking about for all too long. Maybe now we have a foothold for a full reckoning. That gives me hope.
May we use this moment as a lever to move us all toward the more perfect union we deserve to be.