A lynching memorial opened last week in Montgomery, Alabama, the first of its kind in the nation. As the U.S. continues to reckon with its treatment of people of color, from slavery to mass incarceration, memorials and museums like the National Memorial for Peace and Justice take on a new meaning for travelers and tourists seeking information about the country’s history.
Harvard historian Nancy Koehn joined Boston Public Radio to talk about the museum, which she says revisits the “tragedy and evil of lynching,” as well as the larger trend which sees tourists visiting American cities relevant to the fight for civil rights.
“You go to these places because you’re curious, and then you are affected,” she said. “For many of us, this kind of travel is incredibly eye-opening.”
To remember the fiftieth anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination, The U.S. Civil Rights Trail launched in January. It includes 110 historical places relevant to the Civil Rights Movement, from the Woolworth lunch counter in Greensboro, N.C., to the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center.
“It’s a highway, and it wasn’t a highway that anyone was talking about even five years ago,” Koehn said. “It can be so powerful to learn this way.”
In a time when police brutality and discrimination frequently pepper the national discourse, Koehn says these monuments and memorials aren’t just about remembering the past.
“If we don’t forget, we can make sure it doesn’t happen again,” said Koehn.
Nancy Koehn is the James E. Robison Chair of Business administration. Her latest book is Forged in Crisis: The Power of Courageous Leadership in Turbulent Times. To hear her interview in its entirety, click on the audio player above.