New lynch­ing memo­rial re­minds African Amer­i­cans of painful past

South Florida Times - - NATION - By JAY REEVES and KIM CHAN­DLER

MONT­GOMERY, Ala. (AP) — El­more Bolling de­fied the odds against black men and built sev­eral suc­cess­ful busi­nesses dur­ing the harsh era of Jim Crow seg­re­ga­tion in the South. He had more money than a lot of whites, which his descen­dants be­lieve was all it took to get him lynched in 1947.

He was shot to death by a white neigh­bor, ac­cord­ing to news ac­counts at the time, and the shooter was never pros­e­cuted.

But Bolling’s name is now listed among thou­sands on a new memo­rial for vic­tims of hate-in­spired lynch­ings that ter­ror­ized gen­er­a­tions of U.S. blacks. Daugh­ter Josephine Bolling McCall is anx­ious to see the mon­u­ment, lo­cated about 20 miles from where her fa­ther was killed in ru­ral Lown­des County.

The Na­tional Memo­rial for Peace and Jus­tice, open­ing Thurs­day, is a project of the non­profit Equal Jus­tice Ini­tia­tive, a le­gal ad­vo­cacy group in Mont­gomery. The or­ga­ni­za­tion says the com­bined mu­seum and memo­rial will be the na­tion’s first site to doc­u­ment ra­cial in­equal­ity in Amer­ica from slav­ery through Jim Crow to the is­sues of to­day.

“In the Amer­i­can South, we don’t talk about slav­ery. We don’t have mon­u­ments and memo­ri­als that con­front the legacy of lynch­ing. We haven’t re­ally con­fronted the dif­fi­cul­ties of seg­re­ga­tion. And be­cause of that, I think we are still bur­dened by that his­tory,” said EJI ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor Bryan Steven­son.

The site in­cludes a memo­rial to the vic­tims of 4,400 “ter­ror lynch­ings” of black peo­ple in 800 U.S. coun­ties from 1877 through 1950. All but about 300 were in the South, and prose­cu­tions were rare in any of the cases. Steven­son said they em­pha­sized the lynch­ing era be­cause he be­lieves it’s an as­pect of the na­tion’s ra­cial his­tory that’s dis­cussed the least.

“Most peo­ple In this coun­try can’t name a sin­gle African-Amer­i­can who was lynched be­tween 1877 and 1950 even though thou­sands of African Amer­i­cans were sub­jected to this vi­o­lence,” Steven­son said.

The or­ga­ni­za­tion said a com­mon theme ran through the slay­ings, which it dif­fer­en­ti­ates from ex­tra­ju­di­cial killings in places that sim­ply lacked courts: A de­sire to im­pose fear on mi­nori­ties and main­tain strict white con­trol. Some lynch­ings drew huge crowds and were even pho­tographed, yet au­thor­i­ties rou­tinely ruled they were com­mit­ted by “per­sons un­known.”

McCall, 75, said her fa­ther’s killing still hangs over her fam­ily. The memo­rial could help heal in­di­vid­ual fam­i­lies and the na­tion by ac­knowl­edg­ing the painful legacy of ra­cial mur­ders, she said.

“It’s im­por­tant that the peo­ple to whom the in­jus­tices have been given are ac­tu­ally be­ing rec­og­nized and at least some mea­sure — some mea­sure — of re­lief is sought through dis­cus­sion,” said McCall.

Com­bined, the memo­rial and an ac­com­pa­ny­ing mu­seum a few miles away at the Equal Jus­tice Ini­tia­tive head­quar­ters tell a story span­ning slav­ery, ra­cial seg­re­ga­tion, vi­o­lence and to­day’s era of swollen prison pop­u­la­tions. With nearly 7 mil­lion peo­ple be­hind bars or on pa­role or pro­ba­tion na­tion­wide - a dis­pro­por­tion­ate num­ber of them mi­nori­ties - the NAACP says blacks are in­car­cer­ated at a rate five times that of whites.

E.M. Beck, who stud­ied lynch­ing for 30 years and has writ­ten books on the sub­ject, said the memo­rial might ac­tu­ally un­der­state the scope of lynch­ing even though it lists thou­sands of vic­tims.

“I think it’s an un­der­es­ti­mate be­cause the num­ber and amount of vi­o­lence in early Re­con­struc­tion in the 1870s will prob­a­bly never be known. There was just an in­cred­i­ble amount of vi­o­lence tak­ing place dur­ing that pe­riod of time,” said Beck, so­ci­ol­ogy pro­fes­sor emer­i­tus at the Univer­sity of Ge­or­gia. The memo­rial’s de­sign evokes the im­age of a racist hang­ing, fea­tur­ing scores of dark metal col­umns sus­pended in the air from above. The rec­tan­gu­lar struc­tures, some of which lie flat on the ground and re­sem­ble graves, in­clude the names of coun­ties where lynch­ings oc­curred, plus dates and the names of the vic­tims. The goal is for in­di­vid­ual coun­ties to claim the col­umns on the ground and erect their own memo­ri­als.

Not all lynch­ings were by hang­ing. The Equal Jus­tice Ini­tia­tive says it scoured old news­pa­pers, ar­chives and court doc­u­ments to find the sto­ries of vic­tims who were gunned down, drowned, beaten and burned alive. The mon­u­ment is a memo­rial to all of them, with room for names to be added as ad­di­tional vic­tims are iden­ti­fied.

The mon­u­ment’s April 26 open­ing will be marked by a two-day sum­mit fo­cus­ing on ra­cial and so­cial jus­tice, to be fol­lowed by an April 27 con­cert fea­tur­ing top acts in­clud­ing Com­mon, Usher, the Dave Matthews Band and The Roots.

McCall plans to view the memo­rial with her five liv­ing sib­lings. She says they suf­fered more than she did, since she was only 5 when their fa­ther was slain.

A news­pa­per ac­count from the time said the 39year-old Bolling, who owned a store and truck­ing com­pany and farmed, was shot seven times on a road near his store by a white man, Clarke Luckie, who claimed Bolling had in­sulted his wife dur­ing a phone call.

McCall, who re­searched the slay­ing ex­ten­sively for a book about her fa­ther, said it’s more likely that Luckie, a stock­yard em­ployee, re­sented her f ather, who had thou­sands of dol­lars in the bank, three trac­tor-trailer rigs and em­ployed about 40 peo­ple. “He was jeal­ous and he filled him with bul­lets,” she said.

Luckie was ar­rested, but a grand jury is­sued no in­dict­ment and no one was ever pros­e­cuted. McCall be­lieves the white peo­ple who con­trolled the county at the time pur­posely cov­ered for the killer, who died decades ago.

One of Alabama’s old­est black con­gre­ga­tions, Old Ship A.M.E. Zion Church, sits across the street from the memo­rial. Its pas­tor plans to off er prayer and con­ver­sa­tion to help vis­i­tors who are shaken by the ex­pe­ri­ence of vis­it­ing the site.

Church mem­bers have mixed feel­ings about the memo­rial, she said. They want to ac­knowl­edge and honor the past, McFad­den said, but some are won­der­ing how they’ll per­son­ally re­act to vis­it­ing the memo­rial the f irst time.

“It’s some­thing that needs to be talked about, that peo­ple need to ex­plore. But it’s also some­thing that has the po­ten­tial to shake peo­ple to the core,” said Rev. Kathy Thomas McFad­den.

PHOTO COUR­TESY OF THE EQUAL JUS­TICE INI­TIA­TIVE

This new sculp­ture by Hank Wil­lis Thomas will be part of the Na­tional Memo­rial for Peace and Jus­tice and Legacy Mu­seum open­ing this week in Mont­gomery, Alabama.

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