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Why you can't redeem America while looking past lynching

The National Memorial for Peace and Justice is seen in 2018 in Montgomery, Ala.
Brynn Anderson
The National Memorial for Peace and Justice is seen in 2018 in Montgomery, Ala.

An Illinois State University professor will discuss “Can America be redeemed?” during a talk Friday that focuses on sites of memory.

Byron Craig, an assistant professor in ISU’s School of Communication, will spotlight the Memorial for Peace and Justice in Montgomery, Alabama. The 3-year-old site is America’s first dedicated memorial dedicated to the legacy of enslaved Black people, people terrorized by lynching, African Americans humiliated by racial segregation and Jim Crow, and people of color burdened with contemporary presumptions of guilt and police violence.

ISU Assistant Professor Byron Craig
ISU Assistant Professor Byron Craig

Craig’s talk on Friday will explore what restorative justice means to him by using this topic as a foreground to conversation of history and places.

“Restorative justice means, how do we move toward making what is supposed to be a democracy. As a rhetorician I never ask what something is, I ask what it can be. We are in this moment of trying to reconcile with our past and trying not to forget our past,” Craig said.

Craig said that without identifying past mistakes, you are doomed to repeat them.

“This memorial offers us a great way to think about this past, but also to think about this notion of justice that has to happen in this country,” Craig said.

Craig will be focusing on what redemption looks like, that movement toward recovery, and how the physical layout of the Memorial for Peace and Justice can affect a person.

That sense of movement — not unlike the way someone moves through the memorial in Alabama — is important.

“What I am going to be focusing on is when you see a memorial site like this, what effect does that have on someone? What emotional response does it create? How do we move from an emotional response to a real response?” Craig said.

And what is a real response?

“One that says, wow, I do need to look at these laws and this legislation and see what’s wrong with it. I do need to look at the policies of this institution and see how it leaves certain people’s feelings and rights out of those policies,” Craig said. “It’s a whole process. That redemption for me is a lot of things. A lot of it has to do with policies, laws, legislation.”

The Alabama memorial, for example, has a heavy emphasis on slavery. But it also follows this history toward more modern injustices, including a wing on mass incarceration.

The event, sponsored by ISU African American Studies, is free and open to the public.

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Ashley Daniels is a reporting intern at WGLT. She joined the station in 2021. She's also a student at Illinois State University.
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