I didn't know.
I didn't know that your office at Equal Justice Initiative (EJI) is in the same building in which slaves were once held. Like where you type and read and learn and advocate for clients in prison every day.
When we emailed you to see if we could come by, I didn't know that you would meet with us personally, look us each in the eye, and tell us stories about your work. You treated my children like they mattered too. You showed us the labelled jar where your hands had dug up dirt at a site where a lynching had occurred.
I thought "lynching" was hanging someone. That seemed awful enough. I didn't know that lynching is terrorism. It changed where people could call home, where you could work, live, have a family.
Lynching is about unlawfully punishing a group of people, or one representative of a group, without due process or a shred of human dignity. And it was celebrated for so many decades. I didn't know it could be so horrible...and covered up, not taught and eventually forgotten. Thank you for helping us Not Forget.
I didn't know that The Legacy Museum was within walking distance of the offices at EJI, and that I would need 719 more hours to explore and learn. The museum appeals to all of the senses, to all learning types, to all ages and races. I didn't know how much I would need to sit when faced with the facts of our history. My own body weight was too much, so thank you for all of the benches and chairs.
When we drove to the Memorial of Peace and Justice, I didn't know it would be so hot...even if it is Montgomery, AL. We started our journey into the Memorial in the scorching afternoon sun, then found our path circled into the shade of hanging tombs, labelled by state, county, person, year.
Even the fence was symbolic: from an angle the wooden planks look like a simple fence, saving you from falling off the shaded path...or maybe protecting your yard from your neighbor's. When facing the wooden planks, they are lined up like bars on a prison cell - you can see through them, but not move past them.
As the path continued, the floor descended so the tombs hung over our head. I didn't know how powerful it would be to walk forward as the tombs rose. I watched my fourteen year old son walk ahead of me, noticing the length of his body matched the size of the tombs.
I didn't know that this is my story too...and now his.
I didn't know my seven year old daughter would understand so deeply. At the entrance, she had many questions about the sculpture of life-sized humans, slaves with chains around necks and ankles - all connected so if one fell, all moved.
The sculpture toward the exit of heroines from the Civil Rights movement - faces she recognized from the videos and posters in the Museum we just left - and then there, right next to Rosa Parks was an iron circle with two feet impressions. My daughter put her feet into those slots and she became part of the sculpture. She was part of the story, part of the history, and now part of the healing too.
I just didn't know.
The county where I live everyday is marked on these tombs. No more hiding, no more Not Knowing.
Thank you Alison, for all of the hard work, seen and unseen, that you do. Thank you for investigating, filing, listening, writing, reading, briefing - all of the things. I didn't know...now I do. And now is different for the knowing.