Expanded museum in Montgomery explores legacy of slavery

The Equal Justice Initiative (EJI) has opened the doors of its new Legacy Museum in Montgomery with free admission and special gifts for visitors until October 3. The museum examines the legacy of slavery, from its introduction in the New World in the 17th century to the lingering problems of mass incarceration.

The new facility, at 400 N. Court St., is four times the size of its old location and houses considerably more content. Located on the site of a former cotton warehouse and within walking distance of a former slave auction site, the museum features exhibits on the transatlantic slave trade; the era of reconstruction after the civil war; the civil rights era of the mid-1900s, including the Montgomery bus boycott and resistance to racial integration; and information on the denial of the right to vote, among other issues that carry over to contemporary times.

The new museum offers visitors a unique opportunity to remember the legacy of slavery. (Equal Justice Initiative)

Since opening in 2018, the Legacy Museum and the nearby National Peace and Justice Memorial have drawn hundreds of thousands of people, with tickets sold 80% of the time. The new museum space will be able to accommodate many more visitors.

“Before the pandemic, given the crowds the sites drew, we were mostly at full capacity in our current museum,” said EJI Executive Director Bryan Stevenson. “Last year gave us the opportunity to accelerate a plan to significantly expand the museum space, and we are very happy to share it with the world”,

The museum’s expanded exhibits provide visitors with the opportunity to gain a better understanding of how the forced abduction and trafficking of millions of blacks has caused lasting injury and suffering.

For example, the largest space now includes a gallery showcasing works by some of the country’s most acclaimed artists and sculptors, including Glenn Ligon, Deborah Roberts, Jacob Lawrence, Alison Saar, Elizabeth Cathlett, Gordon Parks and Carrie Mae Weems.

The Transatlantic Slave Trade Wing features more than 200 new sculptures by African artists. Several original animated shorts have been developed for the space with narration from award-winning actors including Lupita Nyong’o, Don Cheadle and Wendell Pierce.

The gallery includes pieces created for the Legacy Museum, and its entire collection is curated in dialogue with the museum’s historical narrative. Collaborations with famous musicians, including Wynton Marsalis, Jon Booz, Lil Buck, The Aeolians, Chrystal Rucker and Brandie Sutton, explore the role of music and dance in understanding our country’s history and the role of arts.

The new Legacy Museum includes an art gallery with works by some of the country’s most acclaimed artists and sculptors. (Equal Justice Initiative)

The expanded museum offers a closer look at the Montgomery bus boycott and the work of legendary civil rights activists. Jim Crow’s iconography is featured in a collection of signs and notices collected across the country. EJI has compiled laws and statutes that codified racial apartheid in America for visitors to read and experience.

The new content details the barriers to voting and equal rights that black people face. Visitors can take a poll test and learn about the arbitrary and humiliating way polling officials denied black residents the right to vote.

The New Mass Incarceration Wing features the voices of people who have been unfairly convicted, unfairly convicted, and unfairly treated in the US legal system. Visitors will learn about the plight of children prosecuted as adults, those with mental illness, those living in poverty and those suffering from brutal conditions in prisons and prisons across the country.

A new “Space for Reflection” honors hundreds of people who have worked their entire lives to fight racial injustice. Showcasing powerful music and imagery, the space is designed to inspire people to think about what they can do to make a difference.

The new museum is four times the size of its original location in Montgomery. (Equal Justice Initiative)
New features include a vastly expanded set of exhibits on the Civil Rights Era, the Montgomery Bus Boycott, Resistance to Racial Integration, and the History of Voter Rights Deprivation. (Equal Justice Initiative)

Information on the national slave trade was significantly expanded to include first-person accounts of enslaved people trafficked to the Deep South in the 19th century.

The lynching era exhibits include audio and photographic equipment, and 800 earthen pots collected from lynching sites across the country as part of the EJI’s community memory project. The first-person narratives are enriched by an examination of the heroic efforts to tackle lynching violence led by pioneering black journalist Ida B. Wells and student activists who have protested for years.

Outside the museum, visitors can engage in a powerful memorial to the victims of racial terrorist violence during Reconstruction.

“For many Americans, the past year has generated a new desire to take a closer look at our history and understand the impact of slavery, mob violence and Jim Crow laws on contemporary issues. We believe that our museum and our memorial can make a huge contribution to this education, ”Stevenson said.

The new expansion brings the many exhibits, galleries and content to life through films, images and first-person narratives. (Equal Justice Initiative)

EJI will expand its shuttle service to transport guests between the museum and the National Memorial for Peace and Justice. EJI is developing meeting spaces and a new place to accommodate groups of visitors.

Click here to learn more about EJI, the museum and the memorial, including visitor information.

(Courtesy of the Alabama News Center)

About Margaret L. Portillo

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