Ask a public historian: Elliot Spillers

Elliot Spillers is a former SGA president at the University of Alabama and a current public historian at the Equal Justice Initiative in Montgomery, Alabama. When I was looking for organizations to reach out to for this post, EJI immediately came to mind since they run a museum and a memorial that tell really intricate and difficult stories. Spillers happily answered many of my questions about how they do that.

Q: Why is it important for public historians to tell stories that are complicated and difficult?

A: The United States has done very little to acknowledge and reckon with its legacy of enslavement, lynching, and racial segregation. As a result, people of color are disproportionally marginalized, disadvantaged, and mistreated. The National Memorial for Peace stands as a testimony to thousands of Black victims of racial terror lynching whose stories were almost entirely neglected for decades. Without remembrance of these victims or the broader historical experience and legacy of racial injustice in America from enslavement forward, we will not be able to address contemporary expressions of racial injustice, including police brutality and other forms of marginalization and disenfranchisement.

Hi, Dr. Gaddis, this part of the blog is mostly for you. I emailed five organizations for this project roughly a week before the deadline, and received one response before the graciously amended deadline. It was from EJI in Montgomery, and it was clearly copy-pasted from the organization’s media talking points. I would have asked for more information from them, but they didn’t respond to me until Tuesday afternoon.

I say all of that to say, this is the only decent answer I could scrape together from their response. I really wish that more organizations had responded to me because I feel like I had a genuinely good set of questions I wanted answered.

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