In 1865, the slave-owning Confederate states lost their war against the Union. The failure of their bloody rebellion, which they waged in order to protect the institution of slavery, resulted in the ratification of the 13th Amendment, guaranteeing — at least in the eyes of the law — the freedom for millions of black slaves from the shackles of their white captors.
That’s where the story of slavery may end in our history lessons, but civil rights activist Bryan Stevenson doesn’t think America ever really closed the book on its most evil institution — and he wants to start a national conversation about it.
“I don’t think slavery ended in 1865,” Stevenson, the executive director of the Equal Justice Initiative told Mic. “I think it just evolved.”
In an exclusive video op-ed for Mic, the activist argues that only by confronting the horrific legacy of slavery can society truly be free of its burden.
“It was the ideology of white supremacy that argued that black people are different than white people, that... they’re not fully human,” Stevenson says. “And that’s why I continue to believe we’re not free. It’s created that presumption of dangerousness and guilt that still burdens black people.”
“When lynching finally was moved indoors, it was replaced by a criminal justice system that is just as violent and sometimes just as brutal and unfair,” he says.
That’s why Stevenson and the Equal Justice Initiative are building the National Memorial for Peace and Justice, a 6-acre site in Montgomery, Alabama that, he says, will “confronts the legacy of lynching in America.”
“We’re building these sites because we’re not afraid to talk honestly about our history,” the civil rights activist tells us. “I’m not interested in punishing this country for its history. I want to liberate us, I want something better than fear and anger.”