notes of two native daughters, a native granddaughter, and a native daughter-in-law

Two years ago Pretty planned a trip for us and two other family members who live in Texas to visit the newly opened Legacy Museum in Montgomery, Alabama plus several other historical sites related to the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s. We called it our Civil Rights tour, but we could just as easily have called it our Black Lives Matter tour. This post was originally published here in May, 2018 – I dedicate it to the memory of George Floyd whose funeral service is today.  The work of equal justice for all is never finished.

This quotation from Maya Angelou is written on the walls of what is now The Legacy Museum: From Enslavement to Mass Incarceration located on the site of a former warehouse where slaves were kept in prison while awaiting their fate in Montgomery, Alabama before the Civil War and the emancipation proclamation. Pretty, our tour guide, had made reservations for us to visit this museum at 9:30 last Saturday morning so our group of four was up and about very early on a gorgeous warm day. Our motel was right around the corner from the museum so we all walked over – still laughing and teasing each other about the winning and losing from the card games the night before.

The museum itself is open to the public by reservation, but it is not staffed by tour guides. Everyone is allowed to wander at their own pace to read the explanations of the artifacts, documents and jars of dirt collected at verified lynching sites across the country from 1882 to the present. The number of sites is still undetermined but from 1882 – 1968, nearly 5,000 African Americans were reportedly lynched in states across this country. Congressman John Lewis who wrote the foreword for the book Without Sanctuary calls these lynchings the  “hangings, burnings, castrations and torture of an American holocaust…what is it in the human psyche that would drive a person to commit such acts of violence against their fellow citizens?”

Our group split up as we meandered around through the various amazing exhibits. Pretty and I wandered in one direction, Leora and Carmen went off on their own journey through time as we all saw the intimate lives of American slaves come alive through the magic of hologram technology that portrayed the heartache of families savagely separated from each other, the pleas of the children looking for their mother. Interesting fact:  approximately 12 million people were kidnapped over the three centuries of slave trade to America, according to The Legacy Museum. 12 million living, breathing individuals. I felt overwhelmed by the atrocities with each turn Pretty and I made on our visit.

Overwhelmed, ashamed, guilty, angry – those are the emotions that swirled around in my mind with each personal account of my legacy as a white person in America. The pictures that showed cheering crowds of us – sometimes in the thousands – while an African American man was hanged, shot, burned…pieces of his body sold as souvenirs…post card pictures made…popcorn sold. I dreaded looking at the people watching the horrific acts in a party mood with as much fear that I would recognize someone in the crowds as the fear I felt for forcing myself to look at the actual horrific acts perpetrated by the mob violence. I couldn’t even begin to imagine how Leora and Carmen felt.

“The museum connects the legacy of slavery with subsequent decades of racial terrorism and lynching. Visitors see the link between codified racial hierarchy enforced by elected official and law enforcement with both the past and the present. Contemporary issues surrounding mass incarceration are explored with interactive exhibits and examination of important issues surrounding conditions of confinement, police violence, and the administration of criminal justice.”  (Legacy Museum – Equal Justice Initiative)

Interesting fact: One in three black male babies born today is expected to go to jail or prison in his lifetime.  One in three. The United States has the highest rate of incarceration in the world. In 1979 when Richard Nixon declared the war on drugs, roughly 320,000 people were in prison in our country. Now, the current total incarcerated is 2.1 million people with a higher percentage of people of color.

As Pretty and I were getting ready to leave the museum, Pretty wheeled me to a very large interactive map of the USA. By merely clicking on an individual state, the number of lynched persons discovered to date in that state was highlighted. I foolishly couldn’t resist my native state of Texas. The total number was 338. The interactive map also showed the details by county: the name of the person and the date of the lynching. I made the mistake of going to my home county, Grimes, and saw the names and dates of 10 black men lynched there. Right in my home county. Where were my grandparents on those days, or did I really want to know?

Shortly thereafter, Pretty and I left the museum. Leora and Carmen were not far behind us. We were all truly lost in our own thoughts and the walk back to the hotel was very quiet.

As usual, Pretty saved the day by encouraging us to finish packing for checkout, finish the leftover food in our room, and call for our car. We were headed for what turned out to be redemption for us all at the Dexter Avenue King Memorial Baptist Church and a woman named Wanda who helped us shift our focus from evil to good. Hallelujah!

daughter-in- law Pretty, daughter Leora,

granddaughter Carmen,  daughter Sheila

(clockwise left to right)

Stay safe, stay sane and please stay tuned.




About Sheila Morris

Sheila Morris is a personal historian, essayist with humorist tendencies, lesbian activist, truth seeker and speaker in the tradition of other female Texas storytellers including her paternal grandmother. In December, 2017, the University of South Carolina Press published her collection of first-person accounts of a few of the people primarily responsible for the development of LGBTQ organizations in South Carolina. Southern Perspectives on the Queer Movement: Committed to Home will resonate with everyone interested in LGBTQ history in the South during the tumultuous times from the AIDS pandemic to marriage equality. She has published five nonfiction books including two memoirs, an essay compilation and two collections of her favorite blogs from I'll Call It Like I See It. Her first book, Deep in the Heart: A Memoir of Love and Longing received a Golden Crown Literary Society Award in 2008. Her writings have been included in various anthologies - most recently the 2017 Saints and Sinners Literary Magazine. Her latest book, Four Ticket Ride, was released in January, 2019. She is a displaced Texan living in South Carolina with her wife Teresa Williams and their dogs Spike, Charly and Carl. She is also Naynay to her two granddaughters Ella and Molly James who light up her life for real. Born in rural Grimes County, Texas in 1946 her Texas roots still run wide and deep.
This entry was posted in family life, Humor, Lesbian Literary, Life, Personal, photography, politics, racism, Reflections, sexism, Slice of Life, The Way Life Is and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

10 Responses to notes of two native daughters, a native granddaughter, and a native daughter-in-law

  1. Far too many countries have blood on their hands from the trade in slaves.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Wayside Artist says:

    About the time the museum opened, I read an article in the Atlantic detailing the horror of lynchings. It became real for me then, no longer an intellectual exercise in how forward thinking I was. I definitely was still backwards. Soon after an old friend with ties to childhood ranted over the phone about blacks, their privilege and how some black woman store manager spoke to her in a denigrating way. Why Ann, there are blacks everywhere… Blah, hatred, blah, blah, more hatred, bla, blah .. I was stunned. In the past I would’ve calmed her down, smoothed her ruffled white feathers, then gently try to explain oppression to her… again. Instead, full of shock and anger, I told her off. I broke off a 40 + year friendship. She’s tried to reach out, but her spots are stained into the fabric of her personality, and I have no patience for wilful ignorance and hate.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Marsha Gregorich says:

    So hard to listen to the events of this day. It hurts my heart to think of all those who have endured the worst our world has offered. I hope we can find a way to love and care for each other. Strive for the best for all.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Luanne says:

    I remember when you went on the trip with your friends. This description though. That museum is such a service.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I wish you and the Gardener could visit – I wish every American could visit.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Luanne says:

        Me too. So important. When we visited a plantation in Louisiana that focused on slavery it was refreshing and eye-opening just to have the guide explain to us why it’s preferable to use the term “enslaved people” rather than slaves. Every little bit more we learn, the better.

        Liked by 1 person

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