Oct 13, 2023 - Politics & Policy

National monument honoring freed enslaved Black people slated for 2024

A sculpture of enslaved Black people sits at the site of the National Memorial for Peace and Justice on Montogomery, Alabama on Aug. 5, 2023.

A sculpture of enslaved Black people sits at the site of the National Memorial for Peace and Justice on Montgomery, Alabama on Aug. 5, 2023. Photo: Russell Contreras/Axios

Alabama will see a new monument honoring 4 million enslaved Black people who were emancipated at the end of the Civil War.

Why it matters: The "National Monument to Freedom" expected to be open next year, would mark the closest the U.S. has come to a national monument to the victims of enslavement.

  • Advocacy group Equal Justice Initiative announced the project — which will be part of its Legacy Sites — this week.

Details: The 43-foot tall and more than 150-foot long monument will sit near the Alabama River in Montgomery, the EJI said.

  • The monument will celebrate "the courageous survivors of this horrific era" by recognizing the families enslaved people created and millions of their descendants, EJI said.
  • It also will feature writings from activists Harriet Tubman, Frederick Douglass and James Weldon Johnson.
  • Visitors can honor formerly enslaved people by placing flowers in a stream next to the monument.

The monument will be part of the planned Freedom Monument Sculpture Park — set to open in early 2024 — which is a 17-acre site of large-scale sculptures that will tell the story of enslaved Black Americans.

Zoom in: Freedom Monument Sculpture Park and National Monument to Freedom will be part of EJI's Legacy Sites, which currently include The Legacy Museum: From Enslavement to Mass Incarceration and National Memorial for Peace and Justice in Montgomery.

  • The Legacy Museum — located on a site where enslaved people once were sold — features holograms, interactive videos and artifacts connected to the history of enslavement and mass incarceration.
  • The nearby National Memorial for Peace and Justice memorializes the thousands of Black people killed in lynchings.

What they're saying: "We don't see what we're doing as being about tourism at all. I have no interest in that," Bryan Stevenson, EJI founder and executive director, tells Axios.

  • "I think about it as education. I think about it as engaging people. We see coming to our sites as a pilgrimage. And it's a journey that I believe every American should take to reckon with."
  • He said EJI will invite everyone to visit Freedom Monument Sculpture Park to confront our past and inspire a more hopeful future shaped by "truth and justice."
The Alabama River, photographed from the Edmund Pettus Bridge, site of the conflict of 'Bloody Sunday' on March 7, 1965 when armed police officers attacked Civil Rights Movement demonstrators.
The Alabama River, photographed from the Edmund Pettus Bridge, site of the conflict of 'Bloody Sunday' on March 7, 1965, when armed police officers attacked Civil Rights Movement demonstrators. The river in Montgomery will be the site of the "National Monument to Freedom." Photo: Raymond Boyd/Getty Images

Context: The site at the Alabama River is the place where tens of thousands of enslaved Black people were trafficked by boat and rail.

  • The Alabama River also passes under the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama. The bridge was the site of the March 7, 1965, violent attack by police on peaceful voting rights marchers known as "Bloody Sunday."

Between the lines: New museums dedicated to Black history have opened in recent years in Washington, DC, and South Carolina.

  • Those museums cover the story of enslavement but also civil rights and art.
  • Other countries have opened museums or erected memorials to enslavement. International Slavery Museum operates out of Liverpool, England, and Lagos, Portugal, has a small museum confronting the international slave trade as the spot where it began.
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