Ashley heads up social justice reporting initiative

Asia Ashley

Sorrow. Anger. Frustration. Hope. Appreciation. 

Those are just some of the emotions I felt when visiting the Legacy Museum in Montgomery and viewing the various exhibits tracing the legacy of slavery in America to current-day issues Black people face.  

As a young Black woman, I had been taught about how my ancestors were forced into enslavement … how they fought for my freedom and for me to be where I am today. I learned about slavery from a birds-eye view in our history books in school. 

But nothing prepared me for what I saw inside the museum.

Hearing about it was much different than seeing it. As the old adage goes, “Seeing is believing.” Seeing the in-depth narratives and first-hand stories at the museum — often not shown in school history books — of what Blacks endured allowed me to really believe, and experience, the reality and struggles of my forefathers.

Seeing the faux Black bodies beneath the ocean representing those who were tossed overboard in transport from Africa was disheartening but that just begins to paint the picture. 

The feeling of sorrow came over me as I was met with words like “kidnapped” when describing the millions of Black people taken from Africa … kidnapped and separated from their mothers, fathers, brothers and sisters. Imagine living in a world where being stripped away from family suddenly and forced into labor was commonplace. 

“She begged and prayed to be allowed to kiss me for the last time,” recounted the words of a man being sold away from his mother.   

The eeriness of a holographic child calling for his mother while locked behind a cell showed that innocent children were not exempt. 

I became angry at the torture, abuse and lack of empathy that my people endured all to no fault of their own. Simply for the color of their skin. "Why did they deserve this? Why them?" I remember thinking.

To continue on into a life of brutality, racial terror and lynchings even after slavery ended in 1865 was frustrating to watch. They, too, became frustrated and fought for equal rights through sit-ins and protests, while still being beaten and jailed. 

The museum goes on to link how Blacks continue to be viewed as criminals and inferior, which we see now through the mass incarceration of Blacks. Current-day examples of racial biases against Blacks is displayed in the museum through references to the deaths of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor.

As I walked throughout the museum, I took in the reactions of others, some who appeared uncomfortable. Tough conversations are uncomfortable. But that’s part of the museum’s purpose … for America to confront its past, talk about it and find solutions on how to move forward from our horrid history.  

At the end of the tour, the high-ceiling “reflection room,” filled with the faces of activists and those who paved the way and fought for my rights today, gave a sense of appreciation.   

In a way, I also felt motivated. To reflect on the torment Blacks endured for hundreds of years and to see how far we’ve come, gave me hope and motivation … motivation to persevere through what I consider struggles or setbacks.

The Legacy Museum experience provided one like no other. It is definitely a place all races should experience to gain understanding and help break biases against Black people. 

The museum is open Wednesday through Sunday at 400 N. Court St. in Montgomery. Admission to the Legacy Museum and the National Memorial for Peace and Justice — a memorial for lynching victims — is $5.

Asia Ashley is a social justice reporter from CNHI News.

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