at the National Memorial for Peace and Justice, Montgomery, Alabama
(dedicated to victims of documented lynchings, 1879–1950)


No more bones to break now – your fingers, your ribs.

No more eyes gouged from their sockets.

Your manhood whole again.


No one will harness you with rope, drag you

through mobs of colorless faces.


Here on this hilltop

are your new manifestations – steel coffers

six feet tall, hanging above us, heavy as history.


801 pillars in variegated shades of brown,

one for each county where thousands of your bodies


were made to die.




for drinking from a white man’s well

for demanding fair wages for mending a fence

for writing a note to a white woman

for standing on the wrong side of a street




4400 names etched in steel:


Bird Cooper – Claiborne Parish, LA

(had been acquitted of a murder charge)


Harrison and James Gillespie – Salisbury, NC

(was suspected of killing a white woman)


Anthony Crawford – Abbeville, SC

(once rejected a merchant’s bid for cottonseed)


Fred Rochelle, 16 – burned alive in Polk County, FL

(randomly accused of rape)


Caleb Gadley – Bowling Green, KY

(went walking behind the wife of his white employer)


Mary Turner with unborn child – Folsom Bridge, GA

(complained about her husband’s lynching)




Near these monuments wooden shelves hold

hundreds of glass jars, each packed with dirt

from unmarked sites where you were dumped.


Under trees. Down rutted roads. In dark woods.


And in that dirt, traces of your bone and grit,

lifted by your children’s children, by cousins

you’d never meet, by strangers who needed to say


I’m sorry. Their hands driven deep

in tainted earth — to lift out the residue

of your life  and your life  and your life


to speak your names out loud.