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For some of us it may well mean the need for a pilgrimage to Montgomery to reckon with our piece of the burden of history. For me, it meant finding myself in Coos Bay, Oregon, with my husband and two children, holding a large wooden cross, trying to honor the name and memory of a man I had never met.

There was no way of knowing if our makeshift memorial would mean anything in the long run. Would students walk by Tucker’s cross and Google his name? Would a teacher seize on it as an opportunity for a history lesson? Would it spark complaints, as the cross on the nearby Vietnam War memorial did recently from freedom-from-religion groups, a reminder that the struggle to mold memory is itself molded, for better or worse, by constantly shifting social mores? Or would a custodian simply find it and throw it in a dumpster, without a soul realizing the impact of the ground they were walking over?

I will never know. All I know is that my husband and I had made a pilgrimage to honor the name of a man who was the victim of racial violence, in my own state, less than a day’s drive from my home. We had been changed in the journey, and by the small and seemingly insignificant action of placing our own memorial. We could never unlearn what we found; we could never erase the horror of our past. We tried, in our own small way, to confront it. Because acknowledgement—along with repentance and lament—is something that we were raised with as Christians. We are trying to honor our histories by telling them in their entirety, and we are trying to teach them to our children, lest we all forget.

D. L. Mayfield is a frequent CT contributor and author of Assimilate or Go Home. Her most recent CT cover story was “Why I Gave Up Alcohol” (June 2014). She lives in Portland, Oregon. Additional reporting by Andy Olsen.

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