BackStory Awards Inaugural Prize for Excellence in Public History

African American Heritage  •  History  •  News

EJI Memorial - photo courtesy Equal Justice Initiative ∕ Human Pictures
EJI Memorial - photo courtesy Equal Justice Initiative ∕ Human Pictures

BackStory, the American history podcast produced by Virginia Humanities, awarded the first ever “BackStory Prize” to The National Memorial for Peace and Justice.

“The Equal Justice Initiative is grateful to Backstory for recognizing The National Memorial for Peace and Justice by awarding us the BackStory Prize,” said Sia Sanneh, Senior Attorney at the Equal Justice Initiative (EJI). “We believe that in order to address the challenges of the present, it is critical that we honestly confront America’s history of racial inequality and we are thrilled that BackStory has decided to support that effort.”  

The National Memorial for Peace and Justice is the culmination of a multi-year investigation and research into U.S. lynchings by EJI, a non-profit organization based in Montgomery, Ala. According to its website, the site “is the nation’s first memorial dedicated to the legacy of enslaved black people, people terrorized by lynching, African Americans humiliated by racial segregation and Jim Crow, and people of color burdened with contemporary presumptions of guilt and police violence.” It opened in April.

Soil samples from lynching sites on display at the Equal Justice Initiative in Montgomery, Alabama – photo courtesy Equal Justice Initiative ∕ Human Pictures

“The work of public historians, because it occurs outside of academia, is often discounted or overlooked,” said David Stenhouse, executive editor of BackStory. “The BackStory Prize seeks to address that by spotlighting the practitioners who have successfully reached broad audiences with their research and key findings in innovative ways.”

Christopher Jackson

Together with guest judges Christopher Jackson (“Hamilton” on Broadway, “Bull” on CBS) and Margot Lee Shetterly (“Hidden Figures”), BackStory hosts Ed Ayers, Brian Balogh, Nathan Connolly and Joanne Freeman joined Stenhouse in awarding the memorial with a prize that recognizes the best work by a public historian. After a four hour meeting the judges unanimously awarded the prize to The National Memorial for Peace and Justice.

Jackson is a Tony Award nominated actor as well as a Grammy and Emmy Award winning songwriter/composer best known for starring as George Washington in the critically acclaimed, award-winning musical, “Hamilton,”on Broadway.

Margot Lee Shetterly

Shetterly is the author of Hidden Figures: The American Dream and the Untold Story of the Black WomenMathematicians Who Helped Win the Space Race and the founder of The Human Computer Project, an endeavor that is recovering the names and accomplishments of all of the women who worked as computers, mathematicians,scientists and engineers at NACA and NASA from the 1930s through the 1980s. The work of both has renewed public interest in American history and their valuable insight greatly improved the selection process.

Learn more about BackStory by visiting BackStoryRadio.org.  

About BackStory

BackStory brings historical perspective to the America of today. Each week, U.S. historians EdAyers, Brian Balogh, Joanne Freeman and Nathan Connolly look at current issues and trace them back to their roots in American history. From the days of the Early Republic to the 21st century, BackStory reveals the connections (and disconnections) between the past and the present. BackStory makes history accessible for listeners –not only in the United States, but around the globe.

BackStory is freely available on iTunes, Google Play, Spotify, Stitcher and other favorite podcatchers.