Growing up in a state saturated with Confederate memorials put me at a bit of a disadvantage when it came to a full recounting of history. Although my town of Dothan, Alabama, was not one littered with Confederate monuments and markers, its history was still very present. When I experienced this class, it called to question many things I had been taught as a child by teachers, my parents, and my basic surroundings. This class challenged me by pushing boundaries, socially and historically. Not only did it help enlighten me, it helped enlighten others about the dark history of lynching and racism in America that is sometimes left unacknowledged.
The unveiling of the Equal Justice Initiative’s historical marker commemorating the Tuscaloosa County lynching victims was the most surreal part of the semester for me. We had held discussions on the importance of public forums and the historical monuments or markers. At this point, I felt we had helped create a piece of history that worked to affirm the humanity of those that had their lives stripped away from them unjustly. Though there has been misconstrued meanings and backlash of markers being erected for lynching victims like Bunk Richardson (Gadsden, Alabama), I believe they aim to heal the gap between generations of blacks and whites instead of slapping a Band-Aid on the issue. When Dr. Bryan Stevenson, EJI’s director, was asked about the memorial to lynching victims at Bunk Richardson’s marker unveiling, he said, “our goal is not to be divisive; our goal is just to get people to confront the truth of our past with some more courage.”
Bud Wilson’s case is just one out of at least eight lynchings in Tuscaloosa County and one out of thousands in America. The purpose in researching the practice of lynching is to contextualize and validate an often undiscussed and sometimes forgotten era of American History: The Era of Racial Terror. It is important to note that racism did not “go away” after the Civil War was won and slavery was slowly abolished; it is still very prevalent today. Grave incidences like Bud Wilson’s lynching give light to the blatant disregard for black lives in this era and forged racial stigmas that still plague American society today.
It takes one person to acknowledge a story, pass it forward, and ultimately enlighten another. This class has helped me realize I am capable of great change, even if it is just by learning. Throughout this class, I have learned more about myself and race’s place in the historical and modern world than I have in any other history class at Alabama. Most importantly, I have learned how to think critically, make connections, exhaust all routes in research, and to just love others as you love yourself. My favorite Martin Luther King, Jr. quote sums this semester up: “Your silence can be considered as acceptance.” It is time for America to start educating the uneducated, which is easier said than done, but I believe it starts with classes like this. Before, I would become disheartened when thinking of the American South and its views on race, wondering if things will or can ever change. Now, I believe this class has given me and my classmates voices that can help educate those who still associate negative or false stereotypes with race that were formed during the Era of Racial Terror. Hopefully, these voices will lead to much-needed change.