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Exhibit traces legacy of lynching in North Carolina through the stories of victims

The Levine Museum of the New South’s “Legacy of Lynching: Confronting Racial Terror in America” exhibit runs until July 17.
The Levine Museum of the New South’s “Legacy of Lynching: Confronting Racial Terror in America” exhibit runs until July 17. marrowood@charlotteobserver.com

The walls of the Levine Museum of the New South’s “Legacy of Lynching: Confronting Racial Terror in America” exhibit are covered in dozens of pink Post-it notes, put there by people coming face-to-face with this painful part of American history.

On each wall, there is a question for visitors. One asks, “How does the legacy of lynching still resonate today?” Many responses are short and pointed: “mass incarceration,” “institutionalized racism,” “white innocence.” One person answered with a question: “Is this the new Jim Crow?”

The exhibit opened April 25, and will run until July 17. It was created in collaboration with the Equal Justice Initiative, a nonprofit that provides legal representation for people who may have been denied a fair trial and advocates for civil rights. In 2015, EJI released a report detailing its research into over 4,000 racial terror lynchings in 12 Southern states between 1877 and 1950.

North Carolina was among the 12 states included in the report. EJI documented 123 victims of lynching in North Carolina, two of whom were in Mecklenburg County: Joe McNeely in 1913, and Willie McDaniel in 1929. Overall, there were 31 lynching victims in the Charlotte region.

The exhibit tells the stories of lynching victims from the perspective of their descendents as they struggle to piece together and reckon with what happened.

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The walls of the Levine Museum of the New South’s “Legacy of Lynching: Confronting Racial Terror in America” exhibit are covered in dozens of pink Post-it notes, put there by people coming face-to-face with this painful part of American history. Maddy Arrowood marrowood@charlotteobserver.com

These stories become a part of the larger context of the ongoing struggle for racial justice across the country, with a particular focus on Charlotte’s role in the civil rights movement. The exhibit links current issues to landmark moments in this area’s history, such as the Swann v. Charlotte-Mecklenburg Board of Education case.

In that 1971 case, the Supreme Court ruled that the district had to use student assignment and busing to integrate its schools. Thirty years later, a federal appeals court found CMS’s racial integration plan illegal.

As a part of the exhibit, the Levine Museum is also collecting soil from both of the lynching sites in Mecklenburg County to be placed in The Memorial for Peace and Justice in Montgomery, Ala.

The museum hosted the sold-out “An Evening With Bryan Stevenson,” the founder of the Equal Justice Initiative, on Thursday.

Stevenson addressed the racial injustices that exist in the U.S. today, citing, for example, the Bureau of Justice Statistics’ prediction that 1 in 3 black males born in this country will go to jail or prison in their lifetime.

“I don’t think that slavery ended in 1865,” he said. “I think it just evolved.”

He said that although addressing the legacy of lynching can be painful, uncomfortable or exhausting, education and memorials like those the Equal Justice Initiative is creating are crucial if Americans are to right the wrongs created by slavery.


Correction

A previous version of this story misspelled the last name of Bryan Stevenson, founder of the Equal Justice Initiative.
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