I have only seen the National Memorial for Peace and Justice on television and the web. As you probably know, it is a memorial to the over four thousand African Americans who were killed between 1877 and 1950 for the crime of having dark skins. It is certainly overpowering to see the stones representing every single victim whose death could be documented.
Last summer, while walking the streets of Würzburg, Germany, we saw a more prosaic, but just as heart-gripping, memorial to victims of a different Holocaust. Gunter Demnig, a German artist, created Stolpersteine (stumbling blocks), brass plaques cemented on cobblestones. The plaques are engraved with the details of the victims – name, birthdate, date of death, location (concentration camp) of death – who might be Jews, Roma, homosexuals, or mentally or physically handicapped persons. The stumbling blocks are set into the pavement in front of the former homes of the victims, so a stroll down the street is a reminder of what and where it happened.
While a trip to the various Holocaust Museums leaves a person with a profound feeling of rage at those who perpetrated these crimes against humanity, it may be forgotten with the passage of time and a return to one’s daily life. I have the feeling that the Stolpersteine may have a more subtle effect on people, in their pervasiveness throughout the cities where they were installed. I wonder if Demnig or someone else might be encouraged to do the same with those four thousand victims of racism, showing how pervasive and widespread it was throughout this country.