"Bryan Stevenson on Memorializing Our Country's Shameful History" aired on May 26, 2017 on WNYC's podcast On the Media.
From New Orleans to Charlottesville to St. Louis, cities across the country are grappling with whether to take down Confederate monuments and symbols and asking what, if anything, should go up in their place.
Bryan Stevenson, director of the Equal Justice Initiative, has plans. His legal rights group has been documenting the stories of over 4,000 victims of lynching in the South from 1877 to 1950, and has also been putting up markers at lynching sites since 2013. Next year, EJI is opening a museum and a memorial in Montgomery, Alabama to commemorate victims of lynching and chronicle the continuum of racism from slavery to mass incarceration. Stevenson talks to Brooke about the designs for these projects, what it means for Confederate statues to come down now, and the significance of cultural spaces for reckoning with our shameful past.
Alabama Fellow Bryan Stevenson is the founder and Executive Director of the Equal Justice Initiative in Montgomery, Alabama. Mr. Stevenson is a widely acclaimed public interest lawyer who has dedicated his career to helping the poor, the incarcerated and the condemned. Under his leadership, EJI has won major legal challenges eliminating excessive and unfair sentencing, exonerating innocent death row prisoners, confronting abuse of the incarcerated and the mentally ill and aiding children prosecuted as adults. Mr. Stevenson has successfully argued several cases in the United States Supreme Court and recently won an historic ruling that mandatory life-without-parole sentences for all children 17 or younger are unconstitutional. Mr. Stevenson and his staff have won reversals, relief or release for over 115 wrongly condemned prisoners on death row. Mr. Stevenson has initiated major new anti-poverty and anti-discrimination efforts that challenge the legacy of racial inequality in America, including major projects to educate communities about slavery, lynching and racial segregation. Mr. Stevenson is also a Professor of Law at the New York University School of Law.
Mr. Stevenson’s work fighting poverty and challenging racial discrimination in the criminal justice system has won him numerous awards including the prestigious MacArthur Foundation “Genius” Prize, the National Medal of Liberty from the American Civil Liberties Union after he was nominated by United States Supreme Court Justice John Stevens, the Public Interest Lawyer of the Year by the National Association of Public Interest Lawyers, and the Olaf Palme Prize in Stockholm, Sweden for international human rights. The American Bar Association has honored Mr. Stevenson with its John Minor Public Service and Professionalism Award. In 2002, he received the Alabama State Bar Commissioners Award. In 2003, the SALT Human Rights Award was presented to Mr. Stevenson by the Society of American Law Teachers. In 2004, he received the Award for Courageous Advocacy from the American College of Trial Lawyers and also the Lawyer for the People Award from the National Lawyers Guild. In 2006 New York University presented Mr. Stevenson with its Distinguished Teaching Award. Mr. Stevenson won the Gruber Foundation International Justice Prize and has been awarded the NAACP William Robert Ming Advocacy Award, the National Legal Aid & Defender Association Lifetime Achievement Award, the Ford Foundation Visionaries Award and the Roosevelt Institute Franklin D. Roosevelt Freedom from Fear Award. In 2012, Mr. Stevenson received the American Psychiatric Association Human Rights Award, the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute Fred L. Shuttlesworth Award, and the Smithsonian Magazine American Ingenuity Award in Social Progress. Mr. Stevenson was inducted into the American Academy of Arts and Science in 2014 and most recently won the Lannan Foundation Prize for Human and Civil Rights. Mr. Stevenson is a Fellow of the Litigation Counsel of America.
Mr. Stevenson has received 26 honorary degrees including degrees from Yale University, the University of Pennsylvania, Georgetown University and Washington University. He is the recent author of the critically acclaimed New York Times bestseller, Just Mercy, which was named by Time Magazine as one of the 10 Best Books of Nonfiction for 2014 and has been awarded several honors including a 2015 NAACP Image Award.