The independent news organization of Duke University

The capacity to endure

The National Memorial for Peace and Justice is set to open to the public on April 26, 2018, becoming the nation’s first memorial dedicated to the legacy of enslaved black people. The memorial ultimately will memorialize the myriads of individuals who were mutilated by lynch mobs, dehumanized by Jim Crow laws, and people of color who continue to endure contemporary presumptions of guilt and police violence. 

The United States possesses a long, dark and ugly history of lynching black men, women and children. Reports estimate that between the years 1877-and 1950 nearly 4000 innocent black lives were murdered by groups of white people. They have been largely ignored within the historical narrative surrounding race in America, though the media played a crucial role in the early 20th century with the production of Birth of a Nation—a blatant piece of racist propaganda that exacerbated the already illegitimate white fear and ushered in a legacy of brutality levied against people of color. 

To understand the gravity of the horrible atrocities committed against African Americans it is best to form a clear and accurate picture of what would essentially be grounds for death. Victims of lynching were found to have broken “crimes” such as knocking on the door of white women, failing to address a police officer as “mister”, and annoying white girls walking along the street. If a black person so much as gave a white man or woman the wrong look, they would be hung from a tree to serve doubly as a public attraction to white people and a grave reminder to African Americans to remember their place. Black individuals accused of any wrongdoing, regardless the validity, could be subject to the rule of the noose in a society that valued postcard photographs of black corpses over the heinous crimes being committed in the name of white supremacy. And although it is easy to view the monument as a relic of a barbaric past, the monument should still serve to remind us of the ever-present nature of anti-black racism even 2018. 

Last Thursday, two men were arrested at Starbucks while waiting for their friend. While it is store policy to enforce no loitering, it is seldom employed, which aroused suspicions of racial discrimination. Mass incarceration of colored people has been a part of this nation for the past four to five decades though detractors would have you believe it is simply a myth. An innumerable number of instances involving black women, men, and children being gunned down by both white police and citizens have dotted media outlets, dating back to the beating of Rodney King. These realities reflect a troubling history that America has to grasp if it ever wants to reach an unattainable “post-racial” society.

When black people protest over policing and unjust discrimination, they are met with the usual statement: “Slavery is over, get over it.” This is why the National Memorial for Peace and Justice is needed. To remind and reveal the names of victims dehumanized and brutalized by anti-blackness. To show and perhaps expose that attitudes in the Jim Crow era have persisted and carried over into behaviors and beliefs of subsequent generations. Yet, black people are expected to be silent or to protest similar to that of a white-washed Martin Luther King. Black homes, business and bodies were literally destroyed by white people without impunity. The first step to honestly address the ills committed against African Americans is to accept and acknowledge America’s troubled history with race. 


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