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A lynching memorial forces a reckoning for a nation, and a newspaper

The National Memorial for Peace and Justice in Montgomery, Ala., commemorates 4,400 black people who were slain in lynchings and other racial killings between 1877 and 1950.
The National Memorial for Peace and Justice in Montgomery, Ala., commemorates 4,400 black people who were slain in lynchings and other racial killings between 1877 and 1950.Albert Cesare

NEW YORK — A memorial that opened last week in Montgomery, Ala., honoring lynching victims aims to force a reckoning with one of the United States’ worst atrocities.

As the city’s largest newspaper, The Montgomery Advertiser, covered the opening, it found itself in the middle of its own reckoning.

In a news article and an editorial, The Advertiser admitted that its coverage of lynchings over many decades was careless, dismissive, and dehumanizing in its treatment of the black victims and portrayed them as criminals who got what was coming to them.

“We were wrong,” the editorial began.

Part public confession and plea for forgiveness, The Advertiser’s self-examination marked an important acknowledgment of the role that the press played in perpetuating the mob violence that was unleashed on African-Americans for decades after slavery was abolished.

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“Sometimes print media aided and abetted in these acts of terror by announcing when lynchings would take place, by celebrating the courage of the mob, the objectives of the mob,” said Bryan Stevenson, founder of the Equal Justice Initiative, the nonprofit organization behind the new memorial, the National Memorial for Peace and Justice.

NEW YORK TIMES