Bryan Stevenson, founder of the Equal Justice Initiative, recently spoke on The Ezra Klein Show and shared his thoughts about Confederate monuments, justice and repentance.
Stevenson knows what he’s talking about when it comes to these topics. Born and raised in the segregated South, he has experienced firsthand what it’s like to grow up in a region where the Confederacy is celebrated and reminders of white supremacy are enshrined in statues.
Partly as a result of experiencing racism and seeing its harmful effects, Stevenson started EJI to provide “legal representation to people who have been illegally convicted, unfairly sentenced, or abused in state jails and prisons.” This work has launched Stevenson to national prominence as a leader in the modern-day justice movement.
Below is a link to the full podcast interview as well as a few quotes from the transcript.
FOR ME, IT’S IMPORTANT TO REDEFINE WHAT IT IS WE ARE DEALING WITH WHEN WE DEAL WITH POVERTY, AND THAT DEFINITION BEGINS WITH RECOGNIZING THAT THE OPPOSITE OF POVERTY ISN’T WEALTH. THE OPPOSITE OF POVERTY IS JUSTICE.
On the Legacy of Slavery and Racism…
I ACTUALLY THINK THE GREAT EVIL OF AMERICAN SLAVERY WASN’T INVOLUNTARY SERVITUDE AND FORCED LABOR. THE TRUE EVIL OF AMERICAN SLAVERY WAS THE NARRATIVE WE CREATED TO JUSTIFY IT…THE NORTH WON THE CIVIL WAR, BUT THE SOUTH WON THE NARRATIVE WAR.
MY WORK IS AIMED AT TRYING TO CONFRONT THE BURDENS THAT PEOPLE OF COLOR IN THIS COUNTRY FACE, WHICH ARE HEAVILY ORGANIZED AROUND PRESUMPTION OF DANGEROUSNESS AND GUILT.
On Confederate Monuments…
WE ARE CELEBRATING THE ARCHITECTS AND DEFENDERS OF SLAVERY. I DON’T THINK WE UNDERSTAND WHAT THAT MEANS FOR OUR COMMITMENT TO EQUALITY AND FAIRNESS AND JUSTICE.
I THINK WE HAVE TO INCREASE OUR SHAME — AND I DON’T THINK SHAME IS A BAD THING.
IN FAITH PERSPECTIVES, TO GET TO SALVATION — AT LEAST IN THE CHRISTIAN TRADITION — YOU HAVE TO REPENT. THERE IS NO REDEMPTION WITHOUT ACKNOWLEDGEMENT OF SIN. IT’S NOT BAD TO REPENT. IT’S CLEANSING. IT’S NECESSARY.
I DON’T WANT TO PUNISH THIS COUNTRY FOR THESE DECADES OF ABUSES. I WANT TO LIBERATE US.
WE CANNOT GET TO THE RECONCILIATION WITHOUT THE TRUTH.