MONTGOMERY, AL (WSFA) - The torrential rain was no match for the enthusiasm surrounding the opening of the National Memorial for Peace and Justice in Montgomery Thursday.
The long-anticipated wait is over. Thousands of visitors hailing from across the country faced the elements to be part of this significant moment in history, where many are learning for the first time the impact of racial terror – not only in the Deep South but across the nation.
The memorial focuses on lynchings and how they were used to strike fear in the black communities across the country after slavery was abolished. The memorial and the Legacy Museum honor the Montgomery Bus Boycott. One visitor Thursday said her family was involved in the boycott.
"I'm from Montgomery, I live in California, my sisters and I have flown in from all over the country because we are so proud of what is going on," said Amy Nachman. "My favorite quote is from William Faulkner: 'The past is never dead, it's not even passed.' I feel what Bryan Stevenson is doing is bringing us all forward, as we face our past we can go forward. I grew up in the 60s with colored and white water fountains at the Montgomery fair. I'm just so thrilled with the progress."
Nachman said the Ku Klux Klan burned a cross in her yard during the time of the boycott. She said the opening of the memorial has been an especially meaningful day for her family.
The memorial and museum remember lynching victims from nearly every county in the southeast, with some counties having a dozen or more names etched into their pillars. The experience left a couple from Franklin, Tennessee in deep reflection.
"Twelve million Africans were taken to come across the water," said Donna Durham. "Two million died. Six million Jews died in the Holocaust; it speaks to the injustice. There's been so much attention for that, but not nearly enough for the lynchings and social injustices."
Visitors explained the experience as raw and emotional. They were shocked by the scope of the racial terror and painful history they never knew existed.
"I've seen stuff in there I could have never imagined, the information they put out and the way they had it displayed, it's unimaginable, you have to come and see it," said Norman Askew, who was visiting from Athens, Georgia.
"It's American history. We all need to learn and own up to the shame and just acknowledge it," said Dianne Askew.
Many people at the memorial and museum said they never learned this information in school, and they are compelled to lobby to make sure this is part of all curriculum.