On April 29, 2019, EJI dedicated a new monument at our Peace and Justice Memorial Center that commemorates 24 men and women who were lynched or killed in racially motivated attacks during the 1950s, including Emmett Till and voting rights activists Harry and Harriette Moore.
The National Memorial for Peace and Justice documents the most active era of racial terror lynchings between 1877 and 1950.
Racially motivated violence and lynchings continued after 1950, with attacks often targeting early civil rights movement leaders. The killings of the 24 men and women memorialized at the Peace and Justice Memorial Center sparked protests and activism that fueled more than a decade of social change. EJI remembers them for their leadership, their humanity, and their critical role in a long and continuing struggle.
At the dedication ceremony, each of the 24 people memorialized at the center received a standing ovation from the standing-room-only audience as EJI staff read their names and stories.
EJI gave white roses to each person's representatives, who laid them at the base of the monument as a visual and tangible tribute to their loves ones' lives. Estelle Brooks, 91, steadied by her oldest child, laid a rose in front of the monument honoring her husband, Hilliard Brooks Jr.
Mrs. Brooks was pregnant with her third child when her husband was fatally shot by a white police officer in Montgomery on August 13, 1950. Mr. Brooks, 22, was accused of "creating a disturbance" on a Montgomery bus.
According to some reports, he merely paid his fare and entered through the front door, and refused the bus driver's order to exit and re-enter through the rear of the bus as was the custom on Montgomery's segregated buses. The driver called a white police officer, who fatally shot the unarmed black man and wounded two other bystanders. Though several eyewitnesses reported that the shooting was unnecessary, the officer faced no charges. Mr. Brooks's death helped set the stage for the Montgomery Bus Boycott.
Mrs. Brooks was overjoyed to see her husband's name on the memorial. She told al.com:
He was a wonderful husband. I miss him so much. It makes me so happy to be here and see all these people here to remember him.
Her son, Hilliard Brooks III, who was only three when his father was killed, told al.com that seeing his father's name on the monument was important to him.
We need to let the younger people know how we were treated during slavery, in the 50s, early 60s, 40s and 30s. If we don't teach them about our history, we will never know where we are going. You have to know where you come from.
Willie Edwards Jr. was remembered at the dedication ceremony by his widow and two daughters. On January 23, 1957, four Ku Klux Klansmen abducted him at gunpoint and forced him to jump to his death from the Tyler Goodwin Bridge in Montgomery, Alabama.
His wife, Sarah Jean, was pregnant with their third child when her huband went missing while working as a truck driver. His truck was found near Montgomery, and his family ran news ads seeking information, but it was not until April 23 that his remains were found in the Alabama River, 10 miles from Montgomery, a week after their son was born. "I was seven months pregnant and I had to go through and have the pregnancy by myself without my husband," Sarah Jean (now Sarah Salter) told the Montgomery Advertiser. "It was devastating."
Local police claimed the body was in too poor condition to determine the cause of death and conducted no further investigation. Mr. Edwards's widow and children left Montgomery in 1961 and never returned. She told the Advertiser that she found it too painful to return to Alabama for the dedication but she and her daughters appreciate the permanence of the monument. "I think that it's wonderful for them to give him some respect now."
In 1993, a white woman reported that her recently-deceased husband had confessed on his death bed to participating in the lynching of Mr. Edwards. The case nonetheless remained unsolved and no one was ever prosecuted for the murder.
At the dedication, Mr. Edwards's daughter Mildred Betts told the Advertiser:
It makes me feel good that he is going to be standing for something. That his life meant something.
The Peace and Justice Memorial Center
Located at 414 Caroline Street in downtown Montgomery, Alabama, across from the entrance to the National Memorial for Peace and Justice, the Peace and Justice Memorial Center opened in 2019 as an extension of the memorial.
Built to enhance the public and community education goals of the Legacy Museum and the National Memorial for Peace and Justice, the center is a space where visitors can continue to learn about America's history of racial inequality, explore the work of EJI, and engage with artists and thought leaders on these issues.
EJI staff offer presentations for museum and memorial visitors at the center at 2:30 PM daily (except Tuesdays and Sundays).
And the center will be hosting community events with nationally-acclaimed artists, writers, and scholars, films, and other programming to address a range of topics and issues related to the work of EJI, the Legacy Museum, and the National Memorial.