CBS 8 Viewers Get First Look at Lynching Memorial in Montgomery
60 Minutes Exclusive airs this Sunday
Alabama News Network anchor Darryl Hood got the chance to sit down for an Exclusive one-on-one interview with Oprah Winfrey when she visited Montgomery to do a story on the new lynching memorial for the CBS Newsmagazine “60 Minutes”.
The memorial will be dedicated later this month to the thousands of victims of lynchings that took place over a 70-year period following the Civil War.
Sunday on “60 Minutes” will be the first time the public sees the inside of the structure and its 805 steel markers, each bearing the names of people murdered. The memorial is on Caroline Street, near the federal courthouse and Cottage Hill. Her report will be broadcast on 60 MINUTES Sunday, April 8 at 6:00 PM on CBS 8.
Each marker represents a state county and contains the names of victims of lynching from that area. The memorial takes up six acres.
The efforts to build “The National Memorial for Peace and Justice” were led by Bryan Stevenson, a lawyer who founded the Equal Justice Initiative. Asked by Winfrey why he chose to commemorate lynching as opposed to other injustices done by white people to the black community, he says the murderous acts were a way for whites to maintain political control over African Americans, who were supposed to get the right to vote after the Civil War.
“Lynching was especially effective because it would allow the whole community to know that we did this to this person…a message that if you try to vote, if you try to advocate for your rights…anything that complicates white supremacy…and political power, we will kill you.”
Among the more than 4,300 cases of lynching documented by Stevenson and his team was the story of Jesse Washington, a black man accused of a crime in Waco, Texas. One team member, criminal defense attorney Sia Sanneh, found a newspaper account of Washington’s murder. She tells Winfrey it described a crowd of 15,000, many “dressed in their Sunday best.” It detailed how Washington’s clothing was soaked in oil before he was tied to a tree and then lowered into a fire set beneath him. “I think it’s incredibly telling that death was not enough…People would be killed and then shot and then set on fire,” she says. “There are some cases where the body was dragged to the heart of the black community.”
In addition to the monuments displaying the names of the victims, the team has collected jars filled with soil from many places where lynchings took place. Winfrey and cameras record descendants of lynching victim Wes Johnson collecting soil from an Alabama cotton field. The 18-yr.-old was accused of assaulting a white woman, arrested and then taken from his cell by a mob before his trial. He was shot and then hanged from a tree. Stevenson tells Winfrey, “Something happened here that was wrong…unjust, and too few people have talked about it,” he says. “So that’s what we want to do today. We want to recognize the wrong that was done to Wes Johnson.”
CBS News contributed to this story.