THB top 10 on Racial Violence Book Of the Day: Another Day in America, A Chronicle of 10 Short Lives, Gary Younge
Weather: Very pleasant on the way to Atlanta and perfect in E-ville, cool and not too much wind
Department of Corrections: The docent leader in Nashville is Brian, not Ryan
Up early, workout in the fitness center and rather than going to Café Louisa for day-old pastries we dine for free at the Hampton Inn; cereal, bananas, we share bacon and cream cheese on a toasted bagel. Hampton Inn was $250/night + $12 valet parking (not quite the $38/night for valet in Cincinnati and Nashville)
Off to Atlanta, easy sailing to the rental car return ($500 for the week which includes a $200 drop off fee), a huge back-up at TSA Pre line (enough that they take our entire line and route us to another fast flowing lane) and we are at the “international” terminal which is just another stop on the tram with flights arriving or leaving for overseas destinations. Our Delta flight is a continuation from Columbia.
Lunch at Ecco of Paninis, ice tea, potato chips, $47 (they auto-include a tip of 18%). It’s okay, nothing special except it is nice and quiet and out of the hubbub of the food court. Our seats on Delta are “comfort” and the two right next to the exit door and right behind the restroom. We do have a lot of leg room. Downside: the seats are pretty cold from being near the exit door.
Back in E-ville where the Uber driver informs us that the Bay Bridge is all backed up (no surprise, the Bridge is always backed up going to the East Bay) so he takes us over the San Mateo Bridge; traffic flows the whole way, THB is guessing it isn’t really any faster and Uber doesn’t care because they charge ahead of time and driver is free to take whatever route he/she so desires.
Okay, on to the meat of this post, the observations!
1. The South: People seemed very friendly, nobody asked me about THB about his “Let America Vote” hat, hardly saw anyone smoking, most everybody called us Sir and Ma’am, the folks we ran into were either white or black (as best we could tell) and very few Asians, we couldn’t tell if there was anyone carrying a concealed weapon, we were able to have several frank conversations about race relations, in Montgomery the staffs and customers of restaurants and concert goers were definitely integrated.
2. THB and DB really packed a lot into two weeks. Oh, wait, we were really only gone 6 days. The 21C visits were intense cram-sessions on contemporary art. We ate dinner one night starting at 8pm (Day 1), and two other nights we were out late (for us) at concerts (Days 3 and 4). The only down time was between symposium sessions and Day 5 when we intentionally kept time open to save lots of room for visits to the memorial and the museum. We had 12 hours of driving spread over the 6 days and listened to podcasts (several Desert Island Disks, Ezra Klein interviewing Cory Booker, several Freakonomics, maybe a This American Life). How crammed was it? THB didn’t read more than a page of two of the book started on the plane to Cincinnati, no TV, no ballgames. Art and Social Justice every day, all day.
|Kimberly Frost, photographer, Thea Duskin, tattoo artist (one of the THB's faithful followers found the attribution!)|
3. The National Memorial of Peace and Justice: Okay, THB gets the Justice part of it, not so sure about the Peace portion. There’s a lot in the press about the Memorial. For the most part it is pretty typical stuff: the Memorial is in your face on the total extent of lynching; THB thinks EJI would say they have barely scraped the surface given the trauma rippling through 150 years of racial disparity and the outright hatred, intimidation, the enforcement of economic advantage and the total demeaning by one group of people with a different skin color than the ones being demeaned. There’s a whole ‘nother story of wealthy whites manipulating poor whites to do this work for them, not emphasized at the Memorial or the Legacy Museum.
THB has visited a number of famous memorials (e.g., Maya Lin’s on the movement for Civil Rights) and has thought about what makes a memorial more or less successful, more powerful, more like strong art. It’s a juxtaposition of the concept (as opposed to just putting up a plaque and you read the story) of how to represent the group being memorialized and the “construction” as art. So, for example, does the concept of the rusting boxes as representing lynchings around the country over a long period of time succeed? Does it make you think about the number of people who were beaten and lynched? Does it honor them? Did the duplication of the boxes and displaying them as if they were coffins evoke a sense of “something is yet to come” in terms of coming to grips with the past?
There’s no doubt about that. The Memorial is conceptually powerful and extremely well-constructed. THB and DB were primed, having seen a number of videos families coming to grips with an ancestor (or more than one!) being lynched and how traumatic and cathartic the concept of memorializing their dead relatives was for them personally. We didn’t have to use our imagination to understand the potency of the story finally being told.
And the construction: the memorial is very large, the uneven levels of the bottom of the boxes in relationship to the visitors is very unusual and helpful to keeping the visitor alert to what’s going on, the “yard” of extra boxes gives a much different view (the context shifts from the standing “bodies” of the dead to a context of which of the counties have not yet claimed their boxes). Being in the shade/covered as you tour the hanging boxes is critical given the local weather. It’s possible the fountain is also a device for cooling visitors.
In this case, after reflection, what was noticeable to THB was that some elements of the Memorial actually detracted from the concept, being too obvious or “preachy”…for example, THB would have eliminated the sculptures on the outskirts of the Memorial of figures at the beginning and end, got rid of the glass vitrine of dirt collected from lynching sites, and even considering eliminating the fountain covering one entire wall. On other hand, THB loved the small signs stating the “reasons” for an individual’s lynching, right up to the 1940s and exercising their right to vote. Aside: Let America Vote exists because the white power structure is still trying to “lynch” blacks in the South who try to get out the vote, except this time the Republican power structure is doing it “legitimately” through creating voter ID hurdles and extreme gerrymandering…it sure looks like one’s skin color dictates who is doing the exclusion and who is the excluded.
Also, the Raise Up piece by Hank Willis Thomas seems very much to the concept of the dead finally coming back now that they have been acknowledged. Fits well with the theme of the boxes representing coffins.
It’s noteworthy that there is no mention of the architects of the Memorial. That’s because it appears EJI did the design pretty much in-house, using an architecture firm in a supporting role. That’s a major accomplishment for a law firm.
Here's a link to the Equal Justice Initiative site, worth a visit.
4. The Legacy Museum: the first impression is that there were lots of people inside. The tickets were timed, and it is easy to spend an hour or more wandering the various exhibits, so it can get congested (especially towards the front of the museum). Everything is self-initiated, there are no “guides” discussing the exhibits. Of course, it is also very depressing, what was done to blacks to keep them downtrodden, seen as property rather than as humans with equal rights. And, for THB, on overload after the memorial, the butt brush factor and density of material dampened the emotional impact of the museum. It would be better to see the museum when the crowds are gone (actually, true for just about any museum). And, the museum is covering a much larger theme than the Memorial, so far more exhibits (in a much smaller space) makes sense.
5. The EJI meta-message: The impact of slavery is still being felt today. The Legacy Museum is a testimony to the continuum of what hatred and greed will do, especially when propagated under the guise of racism. The symposium sessions were all about the “this happened” and now we are all paying a price to correct the injustices of the past.
So, here’s the connection to the “Peace” in the National Memorial of Peace and Justice. You can’t correct the past with more hatred. You have to find ways to change behaviors that don’t include mass incarceration (creates more problems down the line), disenfranchisement doesn’t work, shooting innocent people doesn’t work. Civil rights are for everyone, not just the lucky ones born with the right skin color of parents who are well off enough to break the cycle of poverty. How to get there? It better be through peaceful means or you won’t ever get there.
That’s what THB thinks the EJI meta-message is: hope and love and determination are needed to correct injustice. Oh, and full participation of all of us in recognizing the problem and contributing to the solution. THB goes "preachy" too.
6. The 21C Museums: So much quality displayed in different style spaces. THB has already said it: these exhibits are near the top of the contemporary art world, competing with the top museums in the world (though on a much smaller scale and what seems a much smaller budget).