Athens, Ohio, Memorializes Lynching of Christopher Davis

Updated 11.21.20

The Christopher Davis Community Remembrance Project partnered with EJI to install a historical marker in Athens, Ohio, on June 24 to memorialize the 1881 lynching of Christopher Davis. On November 21, the project dedicated the marker in an online ceremony that featured remarks and performances from community members.

The Lynching of Christopher Davis

On November 21, 1881, a mob of white men headed to Athens from Albany, Ohio, picking up more men along the way. When they got to Athens, at least 30 strong, some stood guard while others broke into the Athens jail, overpowered the sheriff and dragged Christopher Davis to the South Bridge over the Hocking River in Athens. Mr. Davis, a Black man, was due to stand trial the following morning for the alleged assault of a white woman. He was hanged before he could have his day in court. Members of the mob included leaders in the community. No one was brought to justice for the murder of Mr. Davis, who was 24 years old, a father of two, and a farm laborer from Albany.

Lynching in Ohio: One Man’s Story

Christopher Davis Community Remembrance Project

Early in 2019, a coalition of local and regional organizations, including Showing Up for Racial Justice of Southeast Ohio, the Mount Zion Baptist Church Preservation Society, the Southeast Ohio History Center, Ohio University Department of History, and the Multicultural Genealogical Center of Chesterhill, formed the Christopher Davis Community Remembrance Project. The group was formed to work with EJI to bring attention to the community’s suppressed history of racial terror.

Last fall, the coalition sponsored an event to memorialize Mr. Davis by collecting soil at the base of the old bridge where he was lynched. Over 300 people participated in the soil collection and listened to moving speeches that drew connections from this violent past to ongoing racial injustices. The collected soil was sent to EJI to be exhibited at the Legacy Museum in Montgomery, and a duplicate jar of soil was presented to the Southeast Ohio History Center’s Museum in Athens for inclusion in an exhibit examining this history.

The marker memorializing Mr. Davis is situated on Mulberry Street in Athens, near the site of the old South bridge, close to Ohio University’s Baker Center. “This marker helps create an honest accounting of the past, addressing the true history of human behavior, and helps society avoid repeating such acts of violence against our fellow citizens,” said Tom O’Grady, Development Director with the Southeast Ohio History Center, in a statement. “Our history defines us, as individuals, as communities and as a nation. This coalition has helped us better know our past and that can help chart a better future.”

This marker is necessary because truth is necessary. It is required because justice is required. It must denote honor because a man of honor was murdered here. It must reflect historical honesty to help us dislodge generations of racist lies and distortions that haunt us even now.

Rev. Jack Sullivan Jr., Executive Director of the Ohio Council of Churches

The Christopher Davis Community Remembrance Project said in a statement that the marker will “serve as a reminder that the struggle for racial justice is ongoing, as the recent deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Tony McDade, Ahmaud Arbery, Rayshard Books and many more known and unknown victims, at the hands of police and others, attests.”

In conjunction with the work of the coalition, EJI sponsored an essay contest for Athens County high school students exploring the history of racial terror lynching and how it has impacted current culture. Five winners from four school districts were awarded a total of $6,000 in scholarships.

“With the dedication of this marker the coalition hopes that the dialogue of the systemic injustices and inequalities toward Black Americans will be part of the catalyst to continue,” Ada Woodson Adams, past President of the Multicultural Genealogical Center and Board Member of Mt. Zion Baptist Church Preservation Society, said in a statement. “The end result will be the beginning of America finally living up to The Declaration of Independence.”

A ceremony commemorating Mr. Davis is planned for the fall.

Lynching in America

In Lynching in America and Reconstruction in America, EJI has documented nearly 6,500 racial terror lynchings in America between 1865 and 1950. Thousands more Black people have been killed by white mob lynchings whose deaths may never be discovered. The lynching of African Americans was a form of racial terrorism intended to intimidate Black people and enforce racial hierarchy and segregation.

Lynching was most prevalent in the South, but EJI has documented racial terrorism beyond Southern borders, detailing more than 300 lynchings of Black people in eight states with high lynching rates in the Midwest and the Upper South, including Oklahoma, Missouri, Illinois, West Virginia, Maryland, Kansas, Indiana, and Ohio.

Lynching became the most public and notorious form of terror and subordination. White mobs were usually permitted to engage in racial terror and brutal violence with impunity. Like Mr. Davis, many Black people were pulled out of jails or given over to mobs by law enforcement officials who were legally required to protect them. Terror lynchings often included burning and mutilation, sometimes in front of crowds numbering in the thousands.

In response to this racial terror and violence, millions of Black people fled the South and could never return, which deepened the anguish and pain of lynching. Many of the names of lynching victims were not recorded and will never be known.

EJI’s Community Remembrance Project

EJI’s Community Remembrance Project is part of our campaign to recognize the victims of lynching by collecting soil from lynching sites, erecting historical markers, and developing the National Memorial for Peace and Justice, which acknowledges the horrors of racial injustice.

As part of its effort to help towns, cities, and states confront and recover from tragic histories of racial violence and terrorism, EJI is joining with communities to install historical markers in communities where the history of lynching is documented.

We believe that understanding the era of racial terror is critical if we are to confront its legacies in the challenges that we currently face from mass incarceration, excessive punishment, unjustified police violence, and the presumption of guilt and dangerousness that burdens people of color today.