Lynne Chambers, founder of Legacy Training Inc. in Grand Chain, often picks up books for clients from Mission Missouri in Sikeston.
While she was there, they asked her to go with them to the Legacy Museum and the National Memorial for Peace, both started by the Equal Justice Institute.
“I went with the Missouri group to the museum. I really feel like everybody in America needs to go,” Chambers said.
After the trip, Chambers wanted to start an initiative for Southern Illinois. She was able to use funds from the Healing Illinois Initiative to start the process.
According to Chambers, the Healing Illinois Initiative began after George Floyd’s murder to help communities have the difficult but necessary conversations about race relations.
Chambers started the Healing Southern Illinois Initiative, which includes group of community leaders, master artists and others working on this project.
The coalition’s first step was to conduct a study tour March 17 through 19 to the Legacy Museum and The National Memorial for Peace and Justice Montgomery, Alabama.
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The Legacy Museum provides a history of the United States with a focus on the legacy of slavery. It does that through looking at three things: slavery, racial terrorism and mass incarceration.
The goals of the Healing Southern Illinois Initiative is that the 29 people who went to the museum and memorial will go back to their own communities and start conversations around what they learned.
“They want to do a group show about a group response to the trip,” Chambers said.
Others will plan community remembrance services in their own hometowns. Chambers said they will remember victims of racial terrorism, as well as support collection of soil from lynching sites.
The soil of lynching sites is displayed at the museum.
“The first time I went I was blown away by recognizing that women and children were also lynched,” Chambers said.
She said one of the women they talk about was lynched for chastising while children who threw rocks at her. The lynching was a public event with a festival atmosphere that really was designed to make sure black people were kept in their place.
“I remember become very emotional and realizing how easily it could’ve been me,” Chambers said.
Carolin Harvey is a member of Carbondale City Council and retired from Southern Illinois University. She said the trip was overwhelming, eye-opening and enlightening.
“I’m glad I experienced it, and I’m sad about those things,” Harvey said.
She would really like to see something happen that makes people aware of the physical lynching in Southern Illinois, as well as the societal racism that happens.
Harvey started working at SIU in 1978, and there were no black people in her department. She said it was almost 20 years before she worked with another black person.
“We’ve got to get to a point or to a place where we are all on the same level and working toward the same goals,” she said.
Harvey grew up in Alabama, so her sisters with her at the museum. Part of the museum’s focus on mass incarceration includes video messages from men who were released from prison when they were proven to be innocent.
“One of the people who did a video is a member at my sister’s church,” Harvey said.
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The most difficult part of the museum for her was the samples of the poll test that was used to “help” African-Americans register to vote. One question asked people the number of jelly beans in a jar. Another question asked what the 14th Amendment said.
Darrel Dexter, a high school teacher and author, said the trip was hard to describe and called the artwork impressive.
“I did historical research on lynching in Southern Illinois, so it was educational for me. There is a lot of information about lynching,” Dexter said.
Dexter’s research showed both white and black men were lynched. He said it was interesting the way the museum distinguished between the two types of lynching.
White men received a sort of vigilante justice when they were lynched. They were accused of some great crime, and men went after them.
The lynching of black men were racial terrorism. It was designed to send a message and fear throughout the whole black community, which is terrorism.
“I didn’t see a difference before the visit,” Dexter said.
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As part of his research, Dexter has created a list that details lynching in Southern Illinois, including Alexander, Jackson, Johnson, Pulaski, Union and Williamson counties. He has updated the research to show which people were lynched as racial terrorism.
“I would like to see a reclaiming or acknowledgment of the racist past in this part of Southern Illinois. Once people know what happened, healing can begin,” Dexter said.
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