“You think about the kind of hearts and souls and minds that were required to endure and survive [slavery and racial terror]…and still have the capacity to love.”—Bryan Stevenson, founder and executive director, Equal Justice Initiative
On a six-acre park in Montgomery, Alabama, the Equal Justice Initiative’s National Memorial for Peace and Justice stands just hundreds of feet from the site of a former slave market. Along with its counterpart, the Legacy Museum, the memorial represents and recognizes the violent, unjust history of slavery and its aftermath, too often excluded from our history books.
At the center of these efforts is Bryan Stevenson, founder and executive director of EJI. In addition to his legal advocacy and keen understanding of America’s broken criminal justice system, Stevenson is a masterful storyteller. He bears witness, magnifying the stories of marginalized people in ways that compel us to listen. Rather than treating America’s brutal history of chattel slavery, its legacy of lynching, and the modern mass-incarceration crisis as isolated phenomena, Stevenson and EJI illuminate the threads of racism and racial terror that connect them, while asking challenging questions about America’s past and present.
Earlier this year, the Mellon Board visited the memorial, where Foundation President Elizabeth Alexander spoke with Stevenson about the legacy of migration, recovering the narrative of slavery, and more. Ahead of the release of Just Mercy, a feature film based on Stevenson’s acclaimed 2014 memoir, we are honored to share excerpts of his talk with you here.