Bryan Stevenson advocates for greater public awareness of American South's troubled past

Three new historical markers in Montgomery, Alabama, represent the first step in a push by Professor Bryan Stevenson, head of the Equal Justice and Defender Clinic, to educate Americans about the most unsettling aspects of the African American experience.

Bryan Stevenson
Bryan Stevenson

Until now only one sign, placed in 2001, had referred to Montgomery’s once-booming slave markets, even though the city has many state historical society-sponsored signs for key moments in the Civil War and the civil rights movement. But thanks to the efforts of the Equal Justice Initiative (EJI), a nonprofit law organization focused on social justice and human rights, three additional markers will explain in greater depth Montgomery’s active role in the US slave trade.

In a New York Times article, Stevenson, founder and executive director of EJI, said, “We’re constantly inviting people to the city to think and reflect on civil rights, to think and reflect on the Civil War. If you don’t understand slavery, you can’t possibly understand the civil rights movement, and you certainly can’t understand the Civil War.” 

EJI researchers have also been visiting lynching sites in different areas of the South, with memorials planned in those locations in the next year. Stevenson, whose organization has won new trials, exonerations, and reduced sentences for more than 100 death-row prisoners, sees high African American incarceration rates as an extension of the South’s ignominious civil rights history, and is exploring other ways to acknowledge the psychological repercussions for those who suffered in the Jim Crow era.

Posted on December 10, 2013