Legacy Museum opens in Montgomery, Alabama, to highlight slavery, lynchings

"I'm a descendant of three lynching victims," one visitor said. "I wanted to come and honor them."
by Erik Ortiz /  / Updated 
Image: National Memorial For Peace And Justice Examines U.S. History Of Lynchings
Veric Lang, 19, visits the National Memorial For Peace And Justice on Thursday in Montgomery, Alabama. "It's powerful," Lang said. "Seeing the list of names and the reasons why people were killed, it's eye opening to know what society was like back then. It make me uneasy to know that this is what my people went through. I'm glad times have changed now, but there still a lot more we have to do."Bob Miller / Getty Images

The Legacy Museum: From Enslavement to Mass Incarceration opened this week on the site of a former slave pen in Montgomery, Alabama, where black people were once imprisoned before being sold at auction.

An unflinching reminder of America's racist legacy, the 11,000-square-foot facility will serve as a place of learning for visitors by detailing the tragic history of the slave trade and following through to current-day problems associated with mass incarceration.

The Equal Justice Initiative, a Montgomery nonprofit that provides legal aid to people who may be wrongly convicted, said it raised more than $20 million in private donations to fund the project.

A National Memorial for Peace and Justice is located a few blocks from the museum, and features more than 800 steel monuments that bear the names of lynching victims throughout the country. In its creation, organizers discovered the names of 4,400 black people who were lynched or died in racial killings between 1877 and 1950.

For some visitors to the museum and memorial, seeing the stark and plaintive tributes to the past was painful. "I'm a descendant of three lynching victims," Toni Battle, who drove from San Francisco for Thursday's opening in the rain, told The Associated Press. "I wanted to come and honor them and also those in my family that couldn't be here."

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Part of a statue depicting chained people is on display at the National Memorial for Peace and Justice.Brynn Anderson / AP
Image: National Memorial For Peace And Justice Examines U.S. History Of Lynchings
Ed Sykes, 77, visits the National Memorial For Peace And Justice on April 26, 2018, in Montgomery, Alabama. Sykes, who has family in Mississippi, was distraught when he discovered his last name in the memorial, three months after finding it on separate memorial in Clay County, Mississippi. "This is the second time I've seen the name Sykes as a hanging victim. What can I say?" said Sykes. He plans to investigate the lynching of a possible relative at the Equal Justice Initiative headquarters in Montgomery before returning to San Francisco, where he lives.Bob Miller / Getty Images
Image: National Memorial For Peace And Justice Examines U.S. History Of Lynchings
Wretha Hudson, 73, discovers a marker commemorating lynchings in Lee County, Texas. Hudson, whose father's family came to Alabama from Lee County decades earlier, said the experience was overwhelming. "It's a combination of pride and strength, for my people. In our culture, rain is a sign of acceptance from our ancestors. So the rain is a sign of their acceptance for this day."Bob Miller / Getty Images
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The bronze statue called "Raise Up" is part of the display at the National Memorial for Peace and Justice, shown on April 23.Brynn Anderson / AP
Image: National Memorial For Peace And Justice Examines U.S. History Of Lynchings
Steve Wing, 71, reads the signage near a sculpture commemorating the slave trade. The memorial is dedicated to the legacy of enslaved black people and those terrorized by lynching and Jim Crow segregation in America. Conceived by the Equal Justice Initiative, the physical environment is intended to foster reflection on America's history of racial inequality.Bob Miller / Getty Images
Image: National Memorial For Peace And Justice Examines U.S. History Of Lynchings
Markers at the National Memorial for Peace and Justice display the names and locations of individuals killed by lynching.Bob Miller / Getty Images
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