Bryan Stevenson, played by Michael B. Jordan, is the hero in the 2019 movie “Just Mercy”. This is the true story about a Harvard-trained attorney who rescues an innocent Black man from being executed.
If you are a Supreme Court justice, Bryan Stevenson may have convinced you that a ban on life sentences being imposed for children was necessary.
If you visit Montgomery, Alabama, Bryan Stevenson will be there. The Equal Justice Initiative, his nonprofit, has created a memorial for the 4,400 victims in America of lynchings. It is called the National Memorial for Peace and Justice.
The path takes you around a large square and then downwards, passing under more than 800 monuments of corten steel to victims of lynchings. Stevenson stated that each monument represents a county in which lynchings occurred.
David Pogue, Correspondent, stated that they look like coffins or tombstones at first, but by the time we get here, they are hanging bodies.
Stevenson was the great-grandson and great-grandson an enslaved person. He grew up in rural South poverty. He received a scholarship to Eastern University and enrolled at Harvard Law School. His life was forever changed by an internship in Georgia.
He said, “That was my first encounter with a condemned prisoner.” It was then that I discovered there were many people in this country literally dying to receive legal assistance.
Pogue said, “But you were Harvard Law graduates.” “Did anyone say to you, “Dude, you could earn a lot more going to a legal firm?”
“It seemed to me that everyone said to me, You should be making more money’!” Stevenson laughed. Stevenson laughed. “I saw this community, and I knew I would be involved.”
Stevenson’s 2014 memoir “Just Mercy” describes his encounter with the condemned man and the reactions he experienced from trying to help the unjustly convicted. He said that he received all sorts of threats and bomb threats. “People made it very clear that they didn’t value what I was doing or what we were trying.
Pogue asked: “Why would anyone care?”
Stevenson said, “I believe it’s because the more that you disrupt systems which have been unfairly operating for a long period of time, the greater the implications,”
These larger issues are evident in his latest accomplishment, The Legacy Museum. It is a museum measuring 40,000 square feet that documents the entire history and evolution of American racism.
It all begins with the abduction and abduction of Africans (“12,000,000 Africans were kidnapped across the ocean; almost two million didn’t survive the journey”), which is the beginning of the story of slavery.
One exhibit shows an enslaved woman saying, “I wish that I could have those children.” They should know God will take good care of them, I want them to know.
Pogue said, “These words aren’t from a playwright?”
Stevenson replied, “No.” Stevenson said, “There are hundreds of what they call slavery narratives that were passed through.”
The museum also shows what emerged after slavery was outlawed 1865: a culture that degraded and acted violently towards Black people. One room houses jars made of soil with a date, name, and place.
Stevenson said, “Each one represents an American lynching, where community members went to the lynching spot and dug soil there.” He also noted that it was the 20th anniversary since 9/11. It was amazing. I listened to it all day. This country should be memorialized.
Pogue said, “But that’s a different.” It’s much easier for Americans to remember something they did to them than to remember something we did to them.
“Yes, that’s it! For two-and-a half centuries, this country enslaved Blacks. For a century, we tortured and terrorized Black people. We discriminated against Black people and made them subject to racial hierarchy. People of color continue to be imprisoned, incarcerated and punished in unjust ways.
He said, “But we can also be more than a nation of enslavers, lynchers, segregators and executors.” “But only if that is what we do.”
He says that this is the point: to confront our past as a first step towards healing.
However, not all people are happy.
Pogue asked: “You might have heard the term ‘critical-race theory’?”
Stevenson laughed. “I have!”
“At the moment, people are saying that people like you are trying make America ashamed.”
“Yes, you are right. Some people are like, “Well, I’m afraid of dealing with the truth because it’s not clear what I’ll feel.” I don’t want America to be punished for its past; I want to free us. I want us all to achieve something better. To get there, however, we will have to be more open about the 400-year-old barriers that we built.
Stevenson’s offices and memorial, as well as the museum, are located on streets where Blacks once arrived in chains. “It doesn’t make city leaders uncomfortable that your pushing everyone’s faces in shame of this ugly place’s past? asked Pogue.
Stevenson stated, “I believe it’s important that these stories are told in authentic ways and reflect the power of place.” Many people have commented that the national memorial was powerful and should have been placed in Washington. “I want people to visit Montgomery.”
Pogue asked: “In your book you describe yourself as broken. Pogue asked, “Is this what made you feel broken?
“It’s hard to believe that I have to stand beside people before they are pulled apart, strapped into an electric chair and burnt to death. It’s difficult. Although I am broken, I believe in the beauty of brokenness. “I have come to understand the suffering of others.”
Stevenson has saved 145 wrongly convicted prisoners from being executed since the film’s release. He will also tell you that his work is not over.
Pogue stated, “From the outside it seems like your job generally falls into two categories. There’s all of this, which is education on the past, lynchings, and slavery, and then there’s your true job which is representing those who have been unfairly imprisoned. Do you see a link between slavery and incarceration today?
“Oh, absolutely,” Stevenson replied. Stevenson replied, “Oh, absolutely.” We are able to tolerate extreme punishments that few other societies can tolerate. We have been conditioned to accept harsh punishments, including enslavement, lethal violence, and lynchings. This stuff is interconnected, as history will show. It all connects.
“You know what? It’s all one job for me, and the job involves justice.”