According to Dictionary.com, the noun Leg.a.cy [leg-uh-see] has three meanings, the second of which is “anything handed down from the past, as from an ancestor or predecessor”.
Over three years ago, Vivian and I began living in an RV and traveling throughout the United States. As the case with all RV travelers, our motives are many. But above all, what began as a casual sideline interest and then quickly evolved into the driving force behind our itineraries is learning the history of the United States. As we languished through the south, our curiosity for all stories that comprise American History brought us to Montgomery, Alabama. It is here where America’s darkest legacy was brought to the forefront of our consciousness through the most enlightening visual exhibition we have ever seen. It stopped us in our tracks causing us to reflect and dig deeper into the meaning of ‘Legacy’. By sharing our travel experiences, we also wish to share our learning experiences, and like us, you may learn and gain insight into our country’s legacies.
The Legacy Museum is filled with dramatic and passionate displays of photographs, 2-D and 3-D art, videos, and written words, accompanied by audio-recorded narratives, and music. Unfortunately for me, photography was not allowed in the Legacy Museum. To describe in words our emotions and thoughts as we examined one exhibit after another is impossible for me without representing them with photographs.
Instead, I found some photographs on the internet from news reports of the opening of the Legacy Museum that I will use here. Plus, I was allowed to photograph within the National Memorial of Peace and Justice, which was toured in partnership with the Legacy Museum. With that, please take the time to read while viewing each photograph below.
The museum is divided up into several large rooms that take you through time beginning with the kidnapping of Africans and slave trading ships to North America. You are brought face-to-face with the domestic slave trade with replicas of slave pens and first-person accounts from enslaved people narrating the sights and sounds of the slave trade. As you move along, you become overwhelmed with the written words on display, reproductions of ads and flyers that serve as firsthand accounts of slave trading and then later lynchings.
One of the last rooms in the museum is a very large one where several displays of incarcerated individuals on pre-recorded video screens displayed as a prison visitation booth. You can choose any one of the booths where an incarcerated individual awaits you. Pick up a phone provided at the booth and listen to the inmate’s story.
The National Memorial for Peace and Justice was also created by the EJI and opened in 2018 as a monument to commemorate the thousands of African Americans who were lynched during the American era of racial terrorism. After viewing the Legacy Museum, we took a short walk over to the memorial and once again encountered a visceral display of one of America’s most violent histories.
Following the Civil War and the passing of the 13th and 14th Amendments, white backlash to re-impose white dominance through violent repression in the south escalated in the face of Black political and economic competition created by emancipation and voting rights. Court rulings were also part of the backlash as in 1876, the Supreme Court held that the 14th Amendment prohibits a State from depriving any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; but this adds nothing to the rights of one citizen as against another. Meaning simply – African Americans in the South were left of the mercy of white terrorists if those terrorists were acting as private citizens. Later, it ruled that upholding racial segregation was fully consistent with the 14th Amendment under the guise of “separate but equal”.