Maruka Walker

I believe I am a very self-aware and socially conscious intellectual. As a woman of faith and lover of black history, I have always prided myself on being well versed in the subject matter. Yet, I have reached a new depth in my love and my knowledge with my class’s research into lynching in Tuscaloosa County and the lasting effects of lynching on American culture. I’m not sure if it was unconscious ignorance or willful disinterest, but I now recognize that my knowledge of The Era of Racial Terror was inadequate prior to this class.
I can remember nodding in agreement when my grandma told me during childhood I was blessed and God had brought us a mighty long way. It all resonated deeply in my mind: a price had been paid and blood was shed for my freedom. Until this class, I always believed my grandmother meant that as a spiritual quote about Jesus dying for our sins. I think that is true, but I now know she meant it in a physical sense as well. My ancestors, whether voluntarily during American war efforts or the Civil Rights Movement and involuntarily during the Era of Racial Terror, sacrificed their lives for me.
As a class, we all had to answer the question why are we conducting lynching research, a subject that has been buried in the past. The answer for me came in a deeper revelation of who I am and who I want to be as a woman of faith. To me, faith is about growth and it’s about answering a call bigger than yourself.
The subject matter, lynching in America, weighs on you. It takes a different toll when discussed in class settings accompanied by in depth readings on memory in the South. Holistically, my takeaway from this class relates to the power of representation. The repetitive story of minorities in this nation is that the minority is too often ignored or silenced. Representation without voice is the equivalent of not being represented at all and that has been far and away the reality for minority voices in American history. This again showed me why our research was important. Our work in partnership with EJI helped give a voice to the voiceless. We told the stories of eight men who were rendered voiceless.
Collectively, I must say this class opened some wounds in my own life. My faith and my position as a scholar have both been challenged through our research and our work with EJI. As I reflect, I remember something I heard in Bryan Stevenson’s TED talk. In describing the mission of EJI, he said “we choose to believe people are more than the worse thing they have ever done.” At the time, I thought that literal, but our research has altered my perspective. As we remember the lynchings, I choose not to blame the white men or the white community for this unspeakable pain inflicted upon black communities and black families. However, I will challenge that school of thought in present times, so that our integrated communities can grow and heal.
I can say that our class discussions, and the journey of our research has helped healed the very wounds that were opened through the semester. I have some scars from this class, but I would not trade them for anything. As I said in my speech at the marker ceremony, God told me that scars symbolize victory and proof that we can overcome. Just as the scars of Christ represent the grace and love of our God, the scars of our research journey are but a beacon of light shining towards eventual healing and progress to come in our nation.