Montgomery’s Freedom Monument Sculpture Park to Commemorate Victims of Slavery

The Equal Justice Initiative is set to unveil a third site in Montgomery dedicated to honoring victims of racial violence.

Located on the north side of Montgomery along the Alabama River, the expansive 17-acre Freedom Monument Sculpture Park is centered on the history of American slavery. Bryan Stevenson, the executive director of EJI, explained that the park aims to vividly depict the brutality and horror of slavery while also highlighting the strength and optimism of those who endured it.

Stevenson emphasized the nationwide significance of acknowledging and understanding the experiences of enslaved individuals, stating, “It is not just Alabama, it is all across this country [that lacks a comprehensive record] about the experience of being enslaved, about living through enslavement, and about the legacy of slavery.”

The park is slated to open to the public by the end of this month.

In 1860, Montgomery was a hub of slavery and the domestic slave trade, with 23,710 individuals—constituting 66% of the county’s population—being enslaved. EJI reports that just before the Civil War, around 400,000 individuals were held in bondage along the Alabama River. The nonprofit also highlights that the adjacent rail lines, constructed by enslaved laborers in the 1850s, facilitated the buying and selling of human beings.

Montgomery’s Black community has a rich history of activism, notably catalyzing events such as the Montgomery Bus Boycott in 1955 and the Selma-to-Montgomery march in 1965, which were pivotal moments in the modern civil rights movement.

The iconic park is envisioned as an essential addition to the ongoing narrative of racial history within the U.S. Stevenson expressed, “Montgomery has an important role to play in leading the nation,” underscoring its symbolic significance in addressing historical challenges and fostering education about the nation’s past.

The anticipation surrounding the park’s inauguration underscores its significance, as prominent media outlets like The New York Times have recognized Montgomery as a top destination to visit in 2024.

Freedom Monument Sculpture Park serves as a complement to the existing EJI sites in the city, including the Legacy Museum, which delves into the histories of slavery, segregation, and mass incarceration, exploring their enduring impact on Black Americans and the broader society.

Moreover, the renowned National Memorial for Peace and Justice, established in 2018, pays tribute to lynching victims in the U.S. through poignant sculptures and installations that reflect the experiences and legacies of those who suffered racial violence.

Stevenson emphasizes the need to offer an immersive experience that centers on the stories of enslaved individuals and their enduring legacy—a gap he believes is inadequately addressed by existing plantation sites.

The layout of the park takes visitors on a historical journey, tracing the trajectory of slavery from the transatlantic trade to the local selling of enslaved individuals.

The sculptures at the park, created by diverse artists, including those of African American, African, and indigenous descent, explore various facets of slavery, from its brutality to the resilience of those enslaved. The integration of art and history vividly captures the struggles of individuals fighting for freedom and justice.

A notable sculpture named “The Caring Hand” by Eva Oertli and Beat Huber portrays fingers enveloping a tree, symbolizing care and protection, while another statue called “Strike” by Hank Willis Thomas features two arms, one holding a club, representing resistance and defiance.

The park’s immersive experience extends to tangible artifacts like 175-year-old bricks made by enslaved hands and chains used in the trafficking of enslaved individuals.

Central to the park is a monumental 50-foot structure that lists the surnames of 122,000 former slaves recorded in the 1870 Census, marking a significant historical milestone following the abolition of slavery.

Descendants of enslaved individuals can utilize a dedicated website to trace their familial roots and learn about the locations where their ancestors lived. Additionally, the visitor center offers resources for researching and discovering the history of slavery and the impact on individuals and families.

Stevenson reflects on the resilience and love demonstrated by enslaved individuals in the face of immense suffering, highlighting their ability to create hope and enduring connections despite the brutality they endured.

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