Communities collect dirt from lynching sites to begin a tough conversation

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MONTGOMERY, Ala. -- Legacy Museum and the National Memorial for Peace and Justice open Thursday to allow the public to honor the victims of terror lynchings in America.

Communities have already found a way to begin the conversation through an Equal Justice Initiative project collecting dirt from lynching sites, looking to begin a conversation about a painful time in American history.

"I've been so inspired, by what that process can do," said Bryan Stevenson, Executive Director of the Equal Justice Initiative.

Stevenson said it's not an easy conversation to have.

"The reason why it's uncomfortable is because we've been practicing silence for so long. Thousands of people gathered in the middle of the town and they watched people get burned to death lawlessly, illegally, criminally and nobody has to say anything."

Lynching is defined by Merriam Webster dictionary as; to put to death (as by hanging) by mob action without legal approval or permission. While hanging was the most common method, it was not the only method.

Each jar is labeled with a name, area, and date with some from Madison, Morgan and Colbert counties among others from north Alabama.

"I do believe that if communities start talking about their histories, you know, something will happen," said Stevenson.

Shirah Dedman, the great-granddaughter of a lynching victim, said the sites can help communities and families reunite.

"A lot of times when we talk about reconciliation we just talk about it in terms of black and white, but it goes much further than that, and it's much needed on all levels."

"We have communities that lynched people, we had communities that enslaved people, we have communities that segregated people, but we can be more than that if we're willing to acknowledge it," said Stevenson.

Stevenson said he doesn't believe that a national initiative would be as effective as starting to spur conversation in local communities.