This year, all incoming students read Bryan Stevenson’s Just Mercy, a memoir recounting the author’s legal career representing death row inmates, juveniles sentenced to life imprisonment, people with mental illness, and others. In telling the stories of individuals’ interactions with the criminal justice system, Stevenson exposes the ongoing problems of racism, inadequate legal representation, and mass incarceration.
Stevenson’s recent project is creating the country’s first memorial to the victims of lynching, to be constructed in Montgomery, Alabama. His organization, the Equal Justice Initiative, has spent years researching reports of lynchings, and have been able to document over 4,000 between 1877 and 1950. He connects the current racial disparities in capital punishment with lynchings that occurred into the twentieth century. He is not alone in this view; a recent book, Courting Death: the Supreme Court and Capital Punishment (available in the library), makes the same connection.
The memorial will include the names of the more than 4,000 victims identified by the Equal Justice Initiative, engraved on 800 columns, which represent each county where a lynching occurred. The memorial is expected to open in 2018.
If you are interested in learning more about Stevenson, Jeffrey Toobin’s 2016 New Yorker article discusses his background, work as a lawyer, and plans for the memorial. In an interview with Charlie Rose, Stevenson discusses his ideas about truth and reconciliation, the legacy of slavery, and how to memorialize past events. Finally, Stevenson gave a popular Ted Talk on the subject of racial imbalance in the criminal justice system.