Peyton McDonough

Since I have been able to reflect upon my time spent researching lynching and how it connects to our own lives, I have realized that this has been one of the most rewarding experiences of my undergraduate career. This is in large part due to the implications that this project has on our society today. Racial marginalization impacts so many different aspects of society, from education, to housing, social status and economic class. If we can begin to understand this, then we can begin to improve the lives of our citizens in countless ways. These changes take time, but they are tangible steps that can be taken in order to improve the nation, and it all comes from studying our own history.

We owe it to ourselves in order to begin the healing process that is necessary after a time of such terror and division. Countries such as South Africa, Rwanda, and Germany, for example, have been able to begin the process of reconciliation and repair after acts of mass racial genocide and terror were committed. The people in those countries understood that they needed to acknowledge these events, to discuss them, and to make a concerted effort to understand what happened, why it happened, and how to ensure it would not happen again. We have not yet begun this process in the United States, and the way our society operates shows it. We prefer to remain in guilt-free ignorance. In order to combat this trend, we need to begin the conversation. It is great that we as a class decided to educate ourselves on topics such as these, but in order for our knowledge to have an impact, we must share it with other people. We must be the ones to initiate the conversation, because if we do not, it is unlikely that other people will. We learned this after going to Montgomery to tour the Equal Justice Initiative, and it was during this trip when I experienced a turning point in my personal understanding of lynching, and racism in general. On the way down to Montgomery, one classmate was shocked to see an area on the side of the highway that was marked by several Confederate flags. He, being from up North, made a comment about it, explaining his surprise. At this moment, I realized that if I had been driving by myself and had seen this, I wouldn’t have thought twice about it. It is something that I have grown so used to seeing that I almost don’t notice these types of displays anymore. This is one of the effects that growing up in the South has had on me. At this point in time, I decided to try to go into this trip with the mindset of someone who was not from the South. I wanted to understand how a foreigner or even someone from a different region might feel when they saw relics such as these. I think that, for me, this was one of the most important moments in the class because, on a large scale, this class about differing perspectives. It is about attempting to understand things that you might not have personally experienced, but that impact you and your society nonetheless.

With the realization of trends that have continued since the time of lynchings, the research of our lynching victims became very real to me. I have never worked on a school assignment with this strong of a connection to the material. At times it was overwhelming, but I found it rewarding to remember the importance of the work that we were doing. If I can make this relatively small sacrifice of doing research in order to piece together the lives of these individuals, then I can begin to repay society’s debt to them. It does not and will not make up for the terrible things that happened to these people, but I believe that it shows their families, and Americans in general, that these individuals were important, and that they should not be forgotten. The stories that come from the lives of the four thousand individuals who were lynched provide insight into one side of history that is rarely told. If we allow ourselves to forget about these people, then we are not telling a complete, or truthful account of history. In other words, if we believe that it is okay to display Confederate monuments, or that we should continue to run Confederate museums, then it is equally important to erect monuments and museums for the people who lost their lives to racial terror.