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Sep 29, 2020

Breonna Taylor and the Legacy of Racially Charged Violence

By now the nation has learned that the Louisville police officers who killed Breonna Taylor were not charged with any crimes related to her death. In fact, only one of the officers was indicted for “wanton endangerment,” because some of the bullets he fired hit the apartment of one of Breonna’s neighbors.

This is yet another painful moment for the African American community and for anyone who shares our urgent need for equal justice under the law.

And the historical parallels are striking: on the same day in 1965, the men who brutally killed Emmett Till were exonerated by a jury of their peers.

We are building the International African American Museum to shine a new light on our history and to celebrate our contributions to this nation. It is vital that we recognize how far we’ve come as a community, but we must also reckon with the many ways our nation continues to fall far short of its promise to African Americans. It is long past time to confront the legacy of racially-charged violence that cut Breonna’s life short, along with so many before her.

It may be a coincidence that the events associated with Emmett Till and Breonna Taylor occurred on the same day. But the significance of this history repeating itself – over and over again – cannot be overlooked.

Our nation was founded with the brutal legacy of slavery at its heart, the hard-won freedom secured by the Civil War was followed by the institutional oppression of Jim Crow. There is little doubt that the systems governing our nation today continue to be shaped by the corrosive forces that defined us in the past.

We must find a way to heal, to change, and to repair – or our nation will remain forever broken, always falling short of its promise. At the International African American Museum, we are committed to doing our part by using the transformative power of education to open hearts and minds.

It will be an ongoing journey, but I know it will be worth it – a better future demands nothing less of us. And I am so grateful that you are traveling this road with us.


Elijah Heyward III, Ph.D.
Chief Operating Officer
International African American Museum

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