Road Through Midnight: A Civil Rights Memorial

Photographs and Oral Histories by Jessica Ingram

While exploring downtown Montgomery, I found myself in front of an ornate fountain on a brick pavilion. A historical marker told me that I was standing on the former Court Square slave market. The language on the sign presented cold facts, including the dollar values paid for slaves, but said nothing about the meaning of the place. I’m from the South and was raised with an awareness of the devastating history of slavery, but this site sparked something in me that caught fire.

Curious about what other hidden histories and sites I might be passing as I drove around the South, I began researching and photographing places where civil rights–era atrocities, Klan activities, and slave trading occurred. In Pulaski, Tennessee, not far from where I grew up, I found the law office where the Ku Klux Klan was founded. The original historical marker on the building has been unbolted, flipped around, and reattached so that only the back of it can be seen. I also visited the banks of the Tallahatchie River, where the disfigured body of fourteen-year-old Emmett Till was thrown in the river. I traveled to the Armstrong Rubber Company in Natchez, where Wharlest Jackson was murdered by a car bomb on the day he received a promotion to a job that had formerly been reserved for white employees, and to Ringgold, Georgia, to the site where Mattie Green was killed in her home by a bomb in 1960. While a majority of my images are reminders of the violence associated with the struggle for civil rights, others highlight its successes, like the photograph of Koinonia Farms. The interracial community in Georgia has weathered firebombing, night riding, Klan intimidation, and economic boycotts and is the birthplace of Habitat for Humanity; its social justice work is ongoing.

In addition to taking photographs I have been gathering historical ephemera and recording oral histories from victims’ family members, local people, investigators, and journalists who witnessed and were impacted by these events.

Unlike Court Square in Montgomery, there are no markers at most of the places I’ve been documenting. As the years pass and the landscape transforms itself in ways both beautiful and banal, all that remains to remind us of the events that occurred are the memories and voices of those who lived through them.

—Jessica Ingram

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Tennessee State Museum
505 Deaderick Street
Nashville, TN 37243-1120
FREE ADMISSION
 
Open: Tuesday - Saturday:
10 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Sunday: 1 to 5 p.m.
Closed: Mondays and four holidays: New Year's Day, Easter, Thanksgiving, and Christmas Day.
(615) 741-2692
TOLL-FREE: 800-407-4324
museuminfo@tnmuseum.org

 

 

 

 
 
tn4me
Tennessee State Museum
505 Deaderick Street
Nashville, TN 37243-1120
FREE ADMISSION
 
Open: Tuesday - Saturday:
10 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Sunday: 1 to 5 p.m.
Closed: Mondays and four holidays: New Year's Day, Easter, Thanksgiving, and Christmas Day.
(615) 741-2692
TOLL-FREE: 800-407-4324
museuminfo@tnmuseum.org

 

 

 

 
 
tn4me