I found the following reflection on the national lynching memorial interesting because it shows the power of subtraction to display a failure in redress.
Khalil Gibran Muhammad, a professor of history at the Harvard Kennedy School who studies truth and reconciliation efforts from Belfast to Rwanda, believes that memorializing victims of structural racism is an important part of a larger movement of racial reckoning in the U.S. but that memorials alone are “insufficient to the harder work of transforming a society.” These efforts don’t go far enough, he told me, because they are too “passive” and easy to skip. He cited the importance of Berlin’s Holocaust Memorial being placed in the heart of downtown, and said that memorials need to “confront the spatial segregation that exists” and “penetrate areas that people cannot avoid.” A museum in Africatown, he worried, would allow people to “opt out” of learning about the history of the Clotilda.
Stevenson, the civil-rights lawyer and founder of the national lynching memorial, addressed this problem by adding a second set of steel rectangles to the memorial, each one representing a U.S. county where lynchings took place. He invited the respective counties to claim their monuments and to establish a memorial on their home ground to lynching victims. He also required each county to demonstrate that its community was taking steps toward economic and racial justice before acquiring its column. The unclaimed monuments that remain on display at the national lynching memorial serve as a reminder of the lack of redress across the country.
It’s deep within a story about the Clotilda, last known slave ship to enter the United States.