From Legacy to Memory: Reckoning with Racial Violence at the National Memorial for Peace and Justice

AuthorChristina Simko
DOI10.1177/00027162211011604
Published date01 March 2021
Date01 March 2021
Subject MatterContemporary Analyses and Implications
ANNALS, AAPSS, 694, March 2021 157
DOI: 10.1177/00027162211011604
From Legacy to
Memory:
Reckoning with
Racial Violence
at the National
Memorial for
Peace and
Justice
By
CHRISTINA SIMKO
1011604ANN THE ANNALS OF THE AMERICAN ACADEMYFROM LEGACY TO MEMORY
research-article2021
How are the legacies of violent pasts brought into
collective memory? Even as social scientists have
systematically documented the long shadow that
racially motivated lynching has cast into the present,
this history has had little place within dominant national
narratives. Recently, however, the Equal Justice
Initiative’s National Memorial for Peace and Justice in
Montgomery, Alabama, has broken through the silence,
attracting widespread attention and praise. This article
examines how the memorial creatively adapts morally
and emotionally resonant themes from dominant
national narratives to bridge long-standing mnemonic
cleavages between Black and white Americans. In
addition, the article provides preliminary evidence that
the legacies of racial violence are gaining a place in
national memory.
Keywords: collective memory; memorials; race; vio-
lence; narrative
Memorialize George Floyd and others as
lynching victims,” opined longtime reporter
Mark Pinsky in the Orlando Sentinel on June
17, 2020. Beneath the headline is an image of
the Corten steel monuments that rise overhead
at the Equal Justice Initiative’s (EJI) National
Memorial for Peace and Justice in Montgomery,
Alabama. Each represents a county where at
least one “racial terror lynching” took place
between 1877 and 1950. Noting that the memo-
rial has been “universally praised for its simple
symbolic power” since its opening in 2018,
Pinsky mobilizes it to link past and present,
arguing that George Floyd, Breonna Taylor,
Ahmaud Arbery, and other African American
victims of “police and vigilante killings” should
have their names inscribed.
Christina Simko is an assistant professor of sociology at
Williams College and the author of The Politics of
Consolation: Memory and the Meaning of September
11 (Oxford University Press 2015).
Correspondence: cs9@williams.edu

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