Bryan Stevenson: At the end of the Civil War black people are supposed to get the right to vote. And the only way people who were white could maintain their political control was to intimidate black people. And lynching was especially effective because it would allow the whole community to know that we did this to this person. It was intended to send a message that if you try to vote, if you try to advocate for your rights, if you insist on fair wages, if you do anything that complicates white supremacy and white dominance and political power, we will kill you.
Oprah Winfrey: Is there usually newspaper evidence or documentation?
Sia Sanneh: Often there were public reports, because people acted with impunity. And so there would be newspaper reports, sometimes in advance, saying, “A man will be lynched later this afternoon.”
Sia Sanneh: This is an article about the lynching of a man named Jesse Washington, who was accused of a crime in Waco, Texas.
The newspaper headline read: “Burn young negro in public square as 15,000 look on.”
A mob dragged Jesse Washington, a teenager who was convicted of murder after a one-hour trial, from the courtroom to the public square.
Sia Sanneh: There’s a remarkable photograph of the crowd. And it’s people dressed in their Sunday best–
Oprah Winfrey: Sunday best.
Sia Sanneh: –with their hats on.
Oprah Winfrey: (READING) “His clothing oil-soaked. He is strung to tree. Fire is set under him. And he is dropped into flames as 15,000 people look on.”
Sia Sanneh: I think it’s incredibly revealing that death was not enough. That it wasn’t enough to kill people. People would be killed, and then shot. And then set on fire. And then even, after that, there are cases where the body was dragged to the heart of the black community.
“The National Memorial for Peace and Justice,” which was paid for through hundreds of private donations, will open to the public .
“I don’t think we get to pretend that this stuff didn’t happen. I don’t think you can just play it off. This is like a disease. You have to treat it.”
It contains 805 steel markers: one for each county where lynchings took place. And on each marker, the names.
The markers are suspended to evoke the horror of being strung up and hanged from a tree.
Oprah Winfrey: So you start with them at eye level, and then on this corridor, they begin to rise.
Bryan Stevenson: And then you get to this corridor, and this is when you begin to confront the scale of all of these lynchings.
Oprah Winfrey: Whoa.
Oprah Winfrey: This is something.
Bryan Stevenson: Yes, yes. We wanted people to have a sense of just the scale of what this violence, what this terrorism was.
Oprah Winfrey: So, this is over 4,000 that have been documented, but of course, there are more.
Bryan Stevenson: Thousands more. Thousands more–
Oprah Winfrey: Thousands more.
Bryan Stevenson: And–
Oprah Winfrey: Will we ever even know how many?
Bryan Stevenson: We will never know.