On “60 Minutes” this week, Oprah Winfrey reported on the opening of a memorial to victims of lynchings in the United States, a project by the Equal Justice Initiative, a non-profit organization that investigates the lynchings of African Americans.
The National Memorial for Peace and Justice, located on six acres overlooking Montgomery, Alabama, commemorates more than 4,400 African American men, women, and children who were hanged, burned alive, shot, drowned and beaten to death by white mobs between 1877 and 1950.
In the CBS News segment, viewers are shown historical photographs of lynching victims.
Executive Producer Jeff Fager explains the show’s decision to air the violent imagery, noting that the events depicted were “a part of history, really almost 80 years of American history,” adding, “I don’t think the story exists without those photos.”
One photograph that surprises Fager the most is an image of a crowd that showed up in Waco, Texas to watch the lynching of a man named Jesse Washington. The hanging tree stands in the center of the photograph, Washington’s tortured body lies beneath it, and hundreds of well-dressed white people look on.
“I really thought most lynchings were in the cover of night and Klan outfits, and not that it was a part of life to that degree—that the town would turn out to watch it happen in broad daylight,” says Fager, who feels that many viewers will learn a lot from the story.
Story producer Denise Schrier Cetta says she hoped the segment will inform a new generation of Americans.
“I think if you look through history one thing that becomes obvious is that any group of people can be whipped into a frenzy or a fury, can do things that are abhorrent,” she says. “And education is one way to make sure those things don’t happen.”