Bryan Stevenson’s fight for justice has taken him from the halls of Harvard to a lynching memorial in Montgomery, with work in several cities in between. While others rely on justice being the end result of due process, the long-time public interest lawyer has made it his life’s calling to fight for what is right on behalf of all people, regardless of race or wealth.
On Friday the founder of the Equal Justice Initiative sits down with NBC Nightly News anchor Lester Holt to discuss the work he has centered his existence on and his upcoming HBO documentary True Justice: Bryan Stevenson’s Fight for Equality which premieres on June 26.
“When we talk about race in this country, are we missing something fundamental?” Holt asks Stevenson during the interview that airs Friday at 6:30 pm ET/5:30 pm CT on NBC.
“I think we are,” Stevenson replies. “I think we are not talking about the ways in which all of us have been situated to think through this lens in ways that compromise our ability to be fair and just with one another.”
Stevenson goes on to raise concerns about the way in which civil rights are discussed in the United States. He says the conversation has become “so benign” and “celebratory” in some ways.
“You hear people talking about the civil rights era, and– and it’s starting to sound like a three-day carnival. Rosa Parks didn’t give up her seat on day one, and Dr. King led a march on Washington on day two; and on day three, we changed all the laws and racism is over,” Stevenson quips. “And that’s not what happened.”
The brainchild behind The National Memorial for Peace and Justice in Montgomery points out that for generations of people, including his parents, everyday life was both dehumanizing and humiliating. He calls the signs used to specify where Blacks and Whites could go as “assaults.”
“They created injuries. And we haven’t treated those injuries,” Stevenson insists. “I was crafted in a place where the first thing that I had to manage was the– the thinking, the presumptions around color, around race.”
Holt first interviewed the author of the acclaimed memoir Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption, back in October during Nightly News’ “Across America” series. Holt stopped in Montgomery, Alabama, where Stevenson gave him a tour of the lynching memorial dedicated to the victims of America’s gruesome past.