Community Remembrance Project

EJI collaborates with communities to memorialize documented victims of racial violence and foster meaningful dialogue about race and justice.

EJI works with communities to install historical markers that acknowledge lynchings, like this one in Tuscaloosa, Alabama.

As a law office, the Equal Justice Initiative has been dedicated to representing clients sentenced to death and condemned to die in prison, challenging inhumane conditions of confinement, and working to expose racial bias in the criminal justice system for more than 30 years. This work has provided a first-hand view of the many ways our nation’s current era of mass incarceration is deeply rooted in America’s history of racial injustice, and has inspired us to launch a project documenting and memorializing the eras of enslavement, racial terror lynching, and segregation. 

There can be no reconciliation and healing without remembering the past.

Member of Community Remembrance Project Coalition in Chattanooga, Tennessee

That project has yielded research and public education materials including reports and brochures, videos, interactive websites on the history of racial terror lynching and segregation, and the annual A History of Racial Injustice calendar, along with groundbreaking sites of memorialization opened in Montgomery, Alabama, in April 2018:  the Legacy Museum: From Enslavement to Mass Incarceration, and the National Memorial for Peace and Justice. In addition to these sites, EJI also opened the Peace and Justice Memorial Center, which features a memorial dedicated to victims of racial terror violence in the 1950s, and the Legacy Pavilion, which includes a monument to Black victims of racial terror violence in the immediate aftermath of the Civil War and during Reconstruction.

We also believe it is critical for communities across the country to do the difficult work of unearthing and confronting their own histories of racial injustice, while exploring how that history continues to shape the present. We are honored to share our research findings and support community memorialization work through the Community Remembrance Project. 

EJI’s Community Remembrance Project partners with community coalitions to memorialize documented victims of racial violence throughout history and foster meaningful dialogue about race and justice today. The Community Soil Collection Project gathers soil at lynching sites for display in haunting exhibits bearing victims’ names. The Historical Marker Project erects narrative markers in public locations describing the devastating violence, today widely unknown, that once took place in these locations. These projects and the other engagement efforts that community coalitions develop, center the African American experience of racial injustice, empower African American community members who have directly borne this trauma, and invite the entire community to use truth to give voice to those experiences and expose their legacies.

We are very proud of the Community Remembrance Project and honored to work alongside community partners throughout the country who are taking on the challenging, necessary work of telling the truth about our history and building a future rooted in justice. Please explore this page for more information and details on how you can get involved.

Lynching in America

After slavery was formally abolished, lynching emerged as a vicious tool of social control to reestablish white supremacy and suppress Black civil and human rights.

More than 4,400 African Americans were lynched across 20 states between the end of Reconstruction in 1877 and 1950. Racial terror lynchings were more than just hangings. They involved groups of white people committing acts of fatal violence against African Americans to instill fear in the entire Black community. These lynchings were frequently carried out in broad daylight and perpetrators could expect impunity. Government officials frequently turned a blind eye or condoned the mob violence. This era of racial terrorism shaped the geographic, social, and economic conditions of African Americans, and America as a whole, in ways that are still evident today. 

Lynching and racial violence fueled the forced exodus of millions of Black people as refugees  from the South into urban ghettos in the North and West during the first half of the 20th century and created a social environment where racial subordination and segregation was maintained with limited resistance for decades. Many Black refugees and exiles who fled the American South faced marginalizing and disadvantaged circumstances in the urban North, West and Midwest. Black people who remained in the South faced continued threat, terror, and humiliation rigidly maintained by legalized racial segregation. The violence and terror of lynching created a legacy of racial inequality that has never been adequately addressed in America, and continues to sustain racial injustice and bias. 

Public acknowledgment of mass violence is essential not only for the victims and survivors, but also for perpetrators and bystanders who suffer from trauma and damage related to their participation in systematic violence and dehumanization.

Many communities where lynchings took place have erected monuments recognizing the Civil War, the Confederacy, and white Southerners’ violent retaking of local power after Reconstruction. But very few monuments or memorials address the history and legacy of lynching, and most victims of lynching have never been publicly acknowledged.

We want a fuller reckoning with our history and to talk about these things that we've pushed to the side.

Jonathan Kubakundimana, EJI Program Manager

In Lynching in America: Confronting the Legacy of Racial Terror, EJI characterized and cataloged racial terror lynchings and studied the locations of lynching so community members across the nation could discover their local history. Our report has now been read by thousands of people who have expressed a desire to engage more thoughtfully on what the legacy of lynching represents in America.

 

Community members gather with EJI material, including our Lynching in America report, at the July 2019 historical marker dedication ceremony in Charlottesville, Virginia. (Eze Amos)

 

To create greater awareness and understanding about racial terror lynchings, and to begin a necessary conversation that advances truth and reconciliation, EJI is working with communities to commemorate and recognize the traumatic era of lynching by collecting soil from lynching sites across the country and erecting historical markers and monuments in these spaces.  Explore a map of the counties documented in EJI’s research on our interactive microsite. 

We believe that understanding the era of racial terror is critical if we are to confront its legacies in the challenges that we currently face from mass incarceration, excessive punishment, unjustified police violence and the presumption of guilt and dangerousness that burdens many people of color.

Broader Community Engagement and Education

EJI believes that truth and reconciliation are sequential. We must address oppressive histories by honestly and soberly recognizing the pain of the past.

To repair the harms caused as a result of an era of enslavement, an era of racial terror lynching and violence, an era of Jim Crow segregation, and an era of mass incarceration, we have to commit ourselves to building an era of truth and justice. EJI invites communities to contribute to this effort by deepening the local understanding of a community’s history of racial injustice and providing tangible opportunities to participate in restorative truth-telling. 

 

Community members in Franklin County, Kentucky, gather to remember victims of racial terror lynching in their community.

 

Community engagement can include a variety of opportunities for people to confront history while building to a commitment of interrupting those cycles today, particularly at the local level. The process of community engagement includes public education, raising consciousness about the local history of racial terrorism and its present-day legacy in local issues such as criminal justice and policing, education, housing and homelessness, health disparities, and the racial wealth gap to name a few. We encourage community programming that will resonate with a diverse audience.  

Some examples include: 

  • Hosting community forums (panel discussions and small group dialogue) exploring current racial disparities and potential reforms
  • Film and documentary screenings 
  • Art exhibits and performances 
  • Community book readings and discussions: 

Communities can also host the Lynching in America traveling exhibit that brings together EJI’s extensive research and resulting data with the stories of lynching victims, as told by their descendants through audio stories and short documentaries. The exhibit includes interactive maps showing the locations of racial terror lynchings and in-depth profiles of people whose lives were forever altered by these acts of violence. To learn more about hosting the Lynching in America traveling exhibit, please email [email protected].

When the era of racial terror and widespread lynching ended in the mid-20th century, it left behind a nation and an American South fundamentally altered by decades of systematic community-based violence against Black Americans. The effects of the lynching era echoed through the latter half of the 20th century. African Americans continued to face violent intimidation when they were accused of a minor social transgression or asserted their civil rights, and the criminal justice system continued to target people of color and victimize African Americans. These legacies have yet to be fully confronted.

In 2015, EJI began working with communities across the country to commemorate and recognize the traumatic era of racial terror by collecting soil from lynching sites. The Community Soil Collection Project provides a tangible way for community members to confront the legacy of racial terror lynchings and to memorialize the African American victims whose lives were lost  and the communities impacted by such violence. 

EJI works with communities to collect soil from lynching sites.

The process begins with forming a committed and diverse community coalition to submit a project proposal. Approved coalitions then work collaboratively with EJI staff to research each victims’ story, identify potential locations for the soil collection, facilitate community education opportunities, and plan a meaningful soil collection ceremony. This project is a great starting point for communities interested in erecting historical markers and eventually claiming their memorial monument. 

Jars of collected soil are displayed in Montgomery at the Legacy Museum: From Enslavement to Mass Incarceration, the Peace & Justice Memorial Center, and in the EJI office. Some communities choose to establish permanent local exhibits with the jars of soil. These exhibits express our ongoing commitment to confronting our history of racial injustice.

The Community Soil Collection Projects have proved incredibly impactful to those who have participated, and community partners who have completed soil collections continually express the deep meaning and emotional impact of these experiences. 

In this soil, there is the sweat of the enslaved. In the soil there is the blood of victims of racial violence and lynching. There are tears in the soil from all those who labored under the indignation and humiliation of segregation. But in the soil there is also the opportunity for new life, a chance to grow something hopeful and healing for the future.

–Bryan Stevenson, EJI Executive Director

Community Historical Marker Project

EJI’s Historical Marker Project invites community coalitions to confront historical trauma and advance truth-telling at the local level.

As part of our effort to help communities confront and recover from tragic histories of racial violence and terrorism, EJI is joining with communities across the country to install narrative historical markers at the sites of racial terror lynchings. Historical markers are a compelling tool in the creation of a permanent record of racial terror violence that provides everyone in the community exposure to our shared history of racial injustice. EJI’s historical markers detail the narrative events surrounding a specific lynching victim, or group of racial terror lynching victims, and the history of racial terrorism in America.

Through the historical marker project, people are motivated to confront historical trauma that is both universal and also very specific to the experiences of African American communities. EJI’s historical marker projects are led by community coalitions that include individuals representing a diversity of experiences and affiliations in the local community. Committed to building local awareness and enabling truthful conversations about the legacy of racial terrorism and injustice in their community, coalition members work with EJI to plan engagement that is relevant to the needs and capacity of their individual communities. EJI believes that reckoning with the truth of racial violence that has shaped our communities is essential for healing.

Potential community partners for EJI’s community remembrance projects, including the community soil collection project, should commit to reading in full EJI’s Lynching in America report to have a comprehensive understanding of the historical and contemporary analysis and discussion that informs the scope and purposes of our project. The report and the accompanying interactive website are meant to foster an honest discussion about our history of racial injustice so that we can better understand the implications of our past for addressing the challenges of the present.

Watch the extraordinary journey of a family and community who overcame a century of silence to expose an American story about hard work and achievement, racial terrorism and exile, and the healing power of truth-telling.

Racial Justice Essay Contest

As a component of our historical marker project, EJI also sponsors an essay contest for public high school students. Students in grades 9-12 are challenged to write an essay that reflects on a historical event and connects it to present-day issues and their lived experiences. EJI typically chooses 4 to 5 winners and awards at least $5,000 in scholarships and prizes. The winners are publicly announced during the dedication of the historical marker in their community and the first place winner is asked to read their essay during the program.

National Memorial for Peace and Justice

Monuments placed in local communities should be surrounded by increased local consciousness about this past and its legacy.

Opened at the same time as The Legacy Museum: From Enslavement to Mass Incarceration, the National Memorial for Peace and Justice memorializes more than 4,400 African American victims of racial terror lynchings from 1877 until 1950. The memorial structure is constructed of over 800 steel monuments, one for each county in the United States where a racial terror lynching took place. The names of the victims are engraved on these monuments. In the six-acre park surrounding the memorial is a field of identical monuments, alphabetized by county and state.

Because there is a path to recovery and reconciliation when we tell the truth about our history in public, acknowledging racial harm in public spaces is a critical first step in racial reconciliation. We must address oppressive histories by honestly and soberly recognizing the pain of the past. The National Memorial concretizes the victims of racial terror lynchings in our national consciousness and makes our national landscape a more honest reflection of the history of America. We cannot repair what we cannot name. 

 

 

Learn why EJI built a national memorial to victims of racial terror lynching.

Truth-telling is a path to justice work.

It is EJI’s hope that the National Memorial inspires communities across the nation to enter an era of truth-telling about racial injustice in their own local histories. EJI staff has connected with more than 100 communities who have responded to the call to begin the truth-telling process. We are eagerly supporting these communities in their efforts to engage this history in long-term and constructive ways.

As a meaningful entry point, we encourage coalitions of residents from local communities to consider participating in our community soil collection and historical marker programs. The community education, engagement, and memorialization involved in these programs allow communities to begin to confront and recover from histories of racial injustice. 

The public narrative a nation creates about what is important is reflected in memorials and monuments. Who is honored, what is remembered, what is memorialized tell a story about a society that can’t be reflected in other ways.

–Bryan Stevenson, EJI Executive Director

As more communities join in this effort to concretize the experience of racial terror through discourse, memorials, markers, and other acts of truth-telling, we are collectively laying the foundation for justice. And we invite you to join us. 

If you would like to be connected with other interested people in your local community, please complete this Interest Form. You will be included in our official records as having expressed interest in our community remembrance processes. 

For more information about the Community Remembrance Project, please email [email protected]. We invite you to visit the National Memorial in Montgomery, AL, where people can gather and reflect on America’s history of racial inequality.

Learn more about other projects