“If I believe that each of us is more than the worst thing he’s ever done,” he said, “I have to believe that for everybody.”
But the history has to be acknowledged and its destructive legacy faced, he said. And this is particularly hard in “the most punitive society on the planet.”
People do not want to admit wrongdoing in America, Mr. Stevenson said, because they expect only punishment.
“I’m not interested in talking about America’s history because I want to punish America,” Mr. Stevenson continued. “I want to liberate America. And I think it’s important for us to do this as an organization that has created an identity that is as disassociated from punishment as possible.”
The initiative’s headquarters are a few blocks away in a building that was once a warehouse in Montgomery’s sprawling slave market. It is now the site of the Legacy Museum, a companion piece to the memorial.
It is not a conventional museum, heavy on artifacts and detached commentary. It is perhaps better described as the presentation of an argument, supported by firsthand accounts and contemporary documents, that the slavery system did not end but evolved: from the family-shattering domestic slave trade to the decades of lynching terror, to the suffocating segregation of Jim Crow to the age of mass incarceration in which we now live.
The museum ends with a nod toward the future. By the exit is a section with a voter registration kiosk, information on volunteer opportunities and suggestions on how to discuss all of this with students. Given what has come before, it seems a jarring expression of confidence in the possibility of change. But there are good reasons for it.