As founder of the recently constructed “National Lynching Museum,” Bryan Stevenson is committed to yielding the power of narrative. During a talk at the 23rd annual Black American Film Festival in Miami, the lawyer and activist detailed the power of narrative in the construction and continuation of the horrid practices of white supremacy in America.
As he sat in front of the audience dialoguing with Angela Rye, he posited, “The North won the Civil War, but the South won the narrative war.” Interweaving the legacies of discrimination and oppression of nonwhite persons in this country with his journey to becoming a Harvard educated lawyer and founder of the Equal Justice Initative, Stevenson’s life and his work is testament to importance of narrative. His commitment to combating injustice is a story that counters ideologies of white supremacy and asserts the denied humanities of black and brown folks.
Tonight, HBO will further expound on Steveson’s story through premiering a documentary titled, True Justice: Bryan Stevenson’s Fight for Equality that traces his early days of providing legal aid to the poor and those on death row to creating The National Memorial for Peace and Justice (informally called The Lynching Museum). By following Stevenson’s journey we learn not only about a dynamic and diverse activist but the inseparablilty of lynching, imprisonment, and the death penalty as extensions of slavery and Jim Crow.
With the increased visibility of narratives around the epidemic of mass incarceration (e.g. Ava DuVernay’s record breaking limited series on Netflix When They See Us) we hope that the power of narrative will prevail. The more we continue to shed light on the atrocities that are the American penal system the more we can continue to chip away at the institution that is designed to imprison black and brown people, and rebuild a truly just system. It is certain that the documentary True Justice: Bryan Stevenson’s Fight for Equality will be a necessary contribution to the conversation and action around mass incarceration and overall will be an inspiring look into the life and labor of a visionary freedom seeker.