KarmaJonez Gets First Look at EJI & Google’s “Lynching in America” Project

In 2015, Equal Justice Initiative received a $1 million grant from Google.org to help fund the From Enslavement to Mass Incarceration Museum, as well as its Memorial to Peace and Justice. After the grant was made, EJI, led by Bryan Stevenson and Google.org looked for further ways to work together. EJI’s recently published report, Lynching in America: Confronting the Legacy of Racial Terror (in the form of an 80-page publication), seemed like an opportunity to leverage Google’s expertise — organizing information and making it more universally accessible — in the name of amplifying Equal Justice Initiative’s message. Coinciding with the launch of this project tpday, Google.org will donate another $1 million to EJI to support its racial justice work.

This project is a reflection of Google’s longstanding commitment to equality and their investments in innovators making a difference in racial and criminal justice. This announcement comes on the heels of $11.5 million in Google.org racial justice grants announced in February of this year, and a total of over $17 million to date. EJI is the first national investment in Google’s portfolio.

I’m interested in this project for a few reasons, mainly because I am a Black person living in America, and am directly impacted by the domestic terrorism we know as “lynching.” After the Civil War, Black people started to gain more “freedom” than they’d ever had, and many of them had even started businesses. Beginning to worry that Black people had forgotten their “place,” white people carried out thousands of lynchings all over the United States from 1882-1968, for “crimes” as small as looking at a white woman.

Lynchings were sometimes a public event, taking place at the county fairgrounds, often with children looking on. And sometimes, the lynchings were done in the cover of darkness. No matter where they took place, people could be seen standing around, sometimes smiling, while bloody, lifeless bodies dangled from trees, with no just cause.

While I knew stories of men, women, and children who had been hanged, I don’t think I really understood just how pervasive racial terror lynching was in this country.

Bryan Stevenson shared a lot of important quotes during the Atlanta round table discussion  that I thought were quite profound. He explained why he thinks this project is necessary and relevant, even in 2017.

“Slavery didn’t end, it evolved. I don’t think slavery ended in 1865. I think it evolved. The period of Reconstruction is really ignored.”

“We’re not really free in this country because have not dealt with the issues.”

“This is not just a Southern issue. Black people in the midwest did not flee for job opportunities, they were refugees and exiles of terror.”

“You are 22 times more likely to get the death penalty if the defendant is Black and the victim is white. The death penalty is the stepchild o lynching. Until we understand that terror and violence, excessive punishment today.”

Mr. Stevenson expressed his desire to have historical markers all over the U.S. to indicate where Black people had been lynched. He mentioned that while we are often reminded of the Holocaust, a horrible tragedy that didn’t even take place on American soil, that we don’t often acknowledge the terrorism that Black people have endured right here in this country for centuries.

Justin Steele, the Principal at Google.org, and Nick Carbonaro, Project Creative Lead at Google also shared a few words about their roles in the project.Toward the end of the presentation, we were given the opportunity to visit different stations to watch powerful short films featuring the families of those whose lives had been unjustly taken. The films were devastating, yet strangely empowering. What I love most about the films is that young, Black photographers and videographers documented these stories. It’s always better for me when we are in control of our own narratives. The story below is hard to watch, but worth it.

To learn more about this project, click here.


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