Bryan Stevenson Talks Confederate Monuments, Justice, and Repentance


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.

On Justice…

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.

On Repentance…

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.

5 thoughts on “Bryan Stevenson Talks Confederate Monuments, Justice, and Repentance

  1. Daniel

    This idea, though old, of taking down the monuments is very interesting to me. I’ve believed a narrative for a very long time as a pastor and took great pride in the history of our nation until I actually began to listen to those negatively affected by it. Instead of me, a white man in Southern California, who can close his laptop and television and all of a sudden racism ceases to exist, there are those who are confronted by it daily. A monument to any man who represented a fight against my ancestor’s dignity, no matter how glorious a fighter, would of course trouble me if that fight had never been reconciled. There’s a straight line, a straight “red line” at times, one can draw from the Civil War (and hundreds of years before) to today where things have not changed, just become more subtle. The sin of racism is subtle today (some would say), just like the sin of pride or covetousness or jealousy, and as such, any reminders manifested in stone only seem to encourage the subtlety. We can’t be naïve to this.

  2. ken dykes

    the only truth that matters is Jesus Christ who said”I am the way ,the truth ,the life-no man comes to the father acept through me”this not the truth stevenson is referring to. stevenson’s brand of truth is useless and misleading and like many black civil rights leaders before him—he leads many black people to hell with his basically anti God message.The truth is each one of us is totally depraved and lost,dead in trespasses and sins, in a state of total despair who’s only hope is an awakening from God where by man sees his true condition before the only Holy righteous God,and receives faith from God upon which the righteousness of Christ is given him and he is then justified,freely forgiven for all his sins and on his way to Heaven.
    There is also these words from Jesus–“If you dont forgive others,God will not forgive you.Here is abit of truth you wont hear much if at all, and your eternal destiny may count on you acting upon it;;Dear black man, if you dont stop hating the white and refusing to forgive him you have little hope of ever seeing Heaven and this is true for any person failing to forgive others based on the words of Jesus.

    Mr Stevenson is highly educated and has helped some people that needed help and he may be commended for that but he doesnt understand God ,the Bible or the world.And if he was put in charge of our nation and his ideology carried out the U.S. would look like south Africa.After Mandela came to power things have just progressively become worse for the black people there.Desmond tutu has called stevenson the new mandela to the the US.

  3. Critz George

    Since Rommel was among the conspirators of the assassination attempt against Adolph Hitler, and was forced to commit suicide because of it, it seems apparent that he served to defend the German nation, not to defend Hitler’s ideology. But loyalty to nation is not sufficient for respect either, His legendary care for troops under his command, his insistence on respectful treatment of POWs, and his cleverness on the battlefield are worthy of respect in the military context.

    The problem with Robert E Lee was that he defended Virginia’s secession that was for the central purpose of preserving slavery (to resist the oppression of slaveholding states). He had many family members who stood by the Union, so he was exposed to other ideas. He also was a slaveholder himself, overruled his father-in-law’s will provision to free the family’s slaves, and was very much captured by the groupthink of Southern society in regards to the inferiority of the negro. That is not to say that he was any more guilty than others, but just that he did not rise to the highest moral precepts available at the time. If you want a monument to conflicting aspects, good and bad, of one human personality, Lee might be it.

  4. george canady

    Surely you are not you are not suggesting Germany should force Jews in Germany to say nothing about a Rommel Monument in their neighborhood because he was a “noble person” in defending Hitler’s Ideology ? I would think we the church might be more empathetic to the survivors of such a hideous Ideology.
    Perhaps many of us whites do not see slavery and Jim Crow the same as the jewish holocaust because the church justified the American torture of blacks.

  5. Larry

    I am white and grew up in the South during the 1950s. I went to church every Sunday and for me Christ was real. This allowed me to observe what the culture was doing and classify it as wrong. But growing up in the South led me to respect Southern soldiers worthy of respect. Lee was a noble person though wrong on slavery. I put him in the same group as Rommel and Yamamoto great soldiers, though they fought for the other side. Are people to stop honoring such people because they were enemies? I can separate the flawed philosophy that supported slavery from the actions of the person. A Civil War museum just recently shut its doors when a black politician told it to remove Confederate flags. How do you discuss the Civil War if such references are not allowed? I cannot help to think that there is a push to purify the past like the Taliban did.

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