A few weeks ago, readers of the New York Times may have noticed a rather moving article about the opening of a new National Memorial for Peace and Justice in Birmingham, Alabama. The museum is dedicated to the victims of white supremacy in the United States, and its centerpiece is:
a grim cloister, a walkway with 800 weathered steel columns, all hanging from a roof. Etched on each column is the name of an American county and the people who were lynched there, most listed by name, many simply as “unknown.” The columns meet you first at eye level, like the headstones that lynching victims were rarely given. But as you walk, the floor steadily descends; by the end, the columns are all dangling above, leaving you in the position of the callous spectators in old photographs of public lynchings.
We've been talking recently in the Racial Reconciliation Reading Group about the spiritual benefits of going on pilgrimage to sites where significant events have taken place. Often a visit to such a place can increase our sense of ownership and engagement with the very real people who were involved in such events. In some cases, our response is inspiration; in others, repentance.
If, like me, you wondered whether this new museum might be an appropriate pilgrimage site, you may have wondered whether it focused on the South alone or also took into consideration more than a dozen lynchings that took place here in Indiana. Would a visit to the Birmingham museum call us to repentance or simply reinforce the illusion that racial violence is just a Southern problem? The beginnings of answers to such questions may be found in another article that appeared in the Indianapolis Star and for which our own Bill Munn (Gethsemane, Marion) was interviewed. That article also mentions the Black Halocaust Museum in Milwaukee, which closed its physical doors in 2008 but continues its life as a virtual museum online.
Conversations are currently underway regarding the possibility of a pilgrimage to Birmingham—stay tuned!