Bryan Stevenson was interviewed for 5 minutes or more on PBS Newshour last night:
BRYAN STEVENSON, EJI: Well, I think we’re still haunted by our history of racial inequality.
We are really burdened by this legacy. And I don’t think we have acknowledged it adequately. We terrorized African-Americans at the end of the 19th century and through half of the 20th century. The demographic geography of this country was shaped by this era of racial terror and lynching.
The American South is littered with the iconography of the Confederacy.
And there are communities where the devastation of slavery, where the devastation of the genocide of Native people has not been acknowledged, has not been recognized. Lynchings provide an opportunity for us to go to very specific places. Many of these acts of terror took place on courthouse lawns, in front of schools, in front of churches, in front of places that still exist today.
So, we have been asking people in the community to engage in acts of truth-telling and acts of recovery, reconciliation, reparation. I think we need that in this country.
We have denied this history for a long time. I think we have become such a punitive society. We have the highest rate of incarceration in the world. I think a lot of people are afraid to talk about slavery, are afraid to talk about lynching and segregation because they fear they will be punished.
We don’t have an interest in punishing America for this history, but we don’t believe we can be free until we acknowledge this history. Issues of police violence, issues of discrimination, issues of lack of diversity are rooted in an absence of truth-telling about our history.
And so we have to just persuade people that there is something powerful and positive and beautiful that can come when we acknowledge these histories, however painful, and make our ways forward.
Germany is a nation that we trust more today because they don’t have these — they don’t have statutes to Adolf Hitler. They don’t celebrate the Nazis. Rwanda is a healthier place because they have acknowledged that legacy. So is South America.
I think America has to replicate that if we’re going to really be free.
In South Africa, you have seen that. In Rwanda, you have seen that. In Germany, you have seen that. I think they are healthier communities because they acknowledge their histories of mass atrocity and violence. I think we’re less healthy because we haven’t talked about the genocide of Native people, we haven’t talked about slavery, we haven’t talked about lynching.
And I think, to get there, we’re going to have to do these tasks. We’re going to have to take these steps. And the community involvement, the soil collections are part of that process.
And I think we need to create spaces in America where we begin to confront this history of racial inequality and we walk out and we say never again. We want them to be sober places. We want them to be informational places, but we also want them to be places where there’s beauty, where there’s hope, where there’s the chance for transformation.