Lester Holt Learns His Family May Be Honored at The National Memorial for Peace and Justice

Lester Holt Learns His Family May Be Honored at The National Memorial for Peace and Justice

From NBC NIGHTLY NEWS

Tuesday on NBC Nightly News, Lester Holt spoke with the founder and executive director the Equal Justice Initiative, Bryan Stevenson, at The National Memorial for Peace and Justice.

Watch the full broadcast:

During the interview at the site, which honors African families torn apart, Lester learned that he may have family members whose names are included at the memorial.

LESTER HOLT: My grandmother was a Houston and there’s a Houston here. I have to call my father but –

BRYAN STEVENSON: It’s astonishing to me how often that happens.

LESTER HOLT VOICEOVER:  Scanning the names on these columns, a familiar last name from Bedford county, Tennessee stands out.  Houston. It was my paternal grandmother’s maiden name. She was born in Tennessee. And the John Houston engraved before me, according to family, was likely related.

LESTER HOLT: Yeah. Got some phone calls to make.

BRYAN STEVENSON: Yes, yes, yes, yes, yes. Absolutely. Absolutely. Well I know they’d be so proud of you.  

Stevenson also told Lester about the memorial: “You know that the sweat of enslaved people are in that soil. You know that the blood of these lynching victims are in that soil. You know the tears of those who were humiliated by segregation are in the soil. But what I love about it is we gather the soil and we can grow something. We can make that soil create new life.”

Lester embarks on his third “Across America” tour this week, anchoring Tuesday in Montgomery, Alabama. All week, Holt will travel across the country, visiting cities from coast-to-coast to report on stories impact Americans in their hometowns and highlights those working to strengthen their communities and inspire others. Each night, Holt will anchor “NBC Nightly News” live from a different city.

FULL INTERVIEW TRANSCRIPT

LESTER HOLT VOICEOVER: Just after dawn, pillars at The National Memorial for Peace and Justice stand as testament to America’s traumatic past. The pain palpable. The memorial begins with this image, enslaved African families torn apart. Centuries of slavery, giving way to decades of racial terror. The legacy of lynchings between 1877 and 1950, not just in the south but across this country, is told here.

BRYAN STEVENSON: The mindset was that black people don’t deserve the dignity of even being a defendant and they would be pulled out of jails, they would be pulled from law enforcement officers, and they would be brutalized in this way.

LESTER HOLT VOICEOVERBryan Stevenson, created the memorial through his non-profit, the Equal Justice Initiative. An attorney and author he’s dedicated his work to getting black men and women released from prison and death row. His book, Just Mercy, is being made into a movie. At the memorial, more than 4,000 names are engraved. The date of murder listed with the county where they died. The reasons, chilling.

BRYAN STEVENSON: Drinking from a white man’s well.

LESTER HOLT: Striking to protest low wages.

BRYAN STEVENSON: Yes. Exactly. If you’re black and you go into town or you– There’s so many ways that you can make a mistake that could cost you your life.

LESTER HOLT VOICEOVER:  For some visitors the memorial, revealing an unexpected truths.

BRYAN STEVENSON There were very few families that were not impacted by this.

LESTER HOLT VOICEOVER:  Minutes later it happened to me.

LESTER HOLT: My grandmother was a Houston and there’s a Houston here. I have to call my father but –

BRYAN STEVENSON: It’s astonishing to me how often that happens.

LESTER HOLT VOICEOVER: Scanning the names on these columns, a familiar last name from Bedford county, Tennessee stands out.  Houston. It was my paternal grandmother’s maiden name. She was born in Tennessee. And the John Houston engraved before me, according to family, was likely related.

LESTER HOLT: Yeah. Got some phone calls to make.

BRYAN STEVENSON: Yes yes yes yes yes. Absolutely. Absolutely. Well I know they’d be so proud of you.

LESTER HOLT VOICEOVER:  But many of the names, are unknown.

LESTER HOLT: This is – this wall is an acknowledgement to those not documented, those we’ll never know. Do you ever allow yourself to estimate what that number may be?

BRYAN STEVENSON: It’s thousands. Whether it’s tens of thousands A great historian, Leon Litwack wrote, how many thousands, we’ll never know.

LESTER HOLT VOICEOVER:  Josephine McCall’s father Elmore Bolling was shot and killed on December 4, 1947 in Lowndes County, Alabama. His name, now memorialized.

JOSEPHINE MCCALL: I was ecstatic. My father had never gotten any recognition, nor had we. We had never been recognized for the trauma that we suffered.

LESTER HOLT VOICEOVER: Stevenson has visions of expanding – his team, collecting soil samples from over 280 lynching sites in the country, a tangible memory for those who never received a proper burial.

BRYAN STEVENSON: You know that the sweat of enslaved people are in that soil. You know that the blood of these lynching victims are in that soil. You know the tears of those who were humiliated by segregation are in the soil. But what I love about it is we gather the soil and we can grow something. We can make that soil create new life.