The Legacy Museum: From Enslavement to Mass Incarceration is located near the former site of one of the most prominent slave auctions in the country and just steps away from the rail station that trafficked tens of thousands of enslaved people during the height of the slave trade. With Montgomery’s proximity to the fertile Black Belt region and its plantations in need of workers, the city became the capital of the domestic slave trade in Alabama. After the Civil War, slave ownership ended with emancipation, but racial inequality and injustice did not. The Legacy Museum, through its immersive exhibits and videos, gives visitors the opportunity to both explore the past and reflect on its impact on society today.
On entering the museum, visitors are confronted with replicas of slave pens and, through sights and sounds, experience what it would have been like to be imprisoned and waiting for the auction block. Narration taken from first-person accounts of enslaved people brings a sobering authenticity to the exhibits. Beyond slavery, the displays and visuals – based on extensive research of the terrorism of lynching and the dehumanizing force of Jim Crow laws – engage visitors in understanding the legacy of America’s racial injustice. They also provide a link from the past to current social issues such as mass incarceration of African Americans and police violence.
The 11,000-square-foot museum was established by the Equal Justice Initiative (EJI) and contains more data on racial lynchings than anywhere else in the U.S. as well as previously unseen information on the domestic slave trade. The EJI believes America’s history of racial inequality and economic injustice continues to affect our country and that more must be done to ensure equal justice for all. The organization has researched these issues for more than 10 years, uncovering the marginalization of people of color, the presumption of their guilt and threat to others, and the inequitable ways they are treated. The Legacy Museum is the result of that intensive research.