DeKalb County Memorializes Four Victims of Racial Terror Lynching


Dee Smith and Teresa Hardy of the DeKalb NAACP stand in front of the DeKalb County historical marker.

The NAACP DeKalb Remembrance Coalition partnered with EJI to install a historical marker to memorialize the lynchings of four Black men in DeKalb County, Georgia, between 1877 and 1950.

On May 14, 2020, the marker was installed outside the DeKalb County City Hall in downtown Decatur. The coalition worked to plan a historical marker ceremony that was set to take place on March 29, but the ceremony plans had to be canceled due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

Lynching in DeKalb County

On July 26, 1887, a black man named Reuben Hudson Jr. was riding on a Georgia Railroad train when a conductor claimed that he resembled a man accused of assaulting a white woman in Redan. After the conductor turned Mr. Hudson over to local officers, he was sent to Redan the following day, where a mob of 100 white men seized and hanged Mr. Hudson from a tree.

On April 3, 1892, a white mob from Lithonia pursued two Black men, whose names were not recorded by local news media, who were accused of assaulting a white girl. Newspaper coverage was sparse and did not include their names. When the mob returned without the men, newspapers reported that it was “generally understood that they were lynched.”

On August 21, 1945, Porter Turner, a Black taxi driver who served white passengers, was found stabbed to death on a physician’s lawn in Druid Hills. Officials assumed the motive was robbery. However, almost a year later, an informant revealed that members of the Klavalier Klub—a branch of the Georgia Ku Klux Klan—were responsible for his death.

Each lynching terrorized the Black community, and the perpetrators of these lawless acts were not held accountable. Memorializing these known and unknown victims reminds us to remain persistent and diligent in the pursuit of justice for all.

NAACP DeKalb Remembrance Coalition

The NAACP DeKalb Remembrance Coalition emerged from the efforts of the DeKalb County Branch of the NAACP. Under the leadership of Dee Smith, the NAACP DeKalb Remembrance Project chairperson, and Teresa Hardy, the NAACP DeKalb President, the coalition grew to include over 50 community members and supporting organizations, including the DeKalb History Center, Georgia State University, DeKalb Board of Education, the City of Lithonia, the Atlanta Jewish Community/Black Jewish Coalition, Compassionate Atlanta, Southern Truth and Reconciliation, Faith Alliance of Metro Atlanta, Atlanta Shambhala, and the DeKalb Democratic Party.

In conjunction with the work of the coalition, EJI and the Decatur and Lithonia subcommittees of the NAACP DeKalb Remembrance Coalition launched a Racial Justice Essay Contest on February 1. Five winners and two honorable mentions were publicly announced on May 22 and awarded a total of $7,000 in scholarships. The winners were Maria Del Mar Castillo Carvajal (1st Place), Rachel Choi (2nd Place), Jayda Hudson (3rd Place), Niana Battle (4th Place), Mikhail Bracy (5th Place), and Sherifa Akinniyi and Joss Connally (Honorable Mention).

The DeKalb Remembrance Project also hosted a college essay contest for students who attend college and live in DeKalb County. Two college student winners were announced and each received a cash prize from the coalition.

Two additional historical markers are being planned: one in Lithonia and another in Druid Hills.

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 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. 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.

The DeKalb County marker is the second one EJI has sponsored in Georgia. In 2017, EJI joined local government officials, church leaders, and community members in unveiling a historic marker in LaGrange to commemorate the lynchings of African Americans in Troup County.

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.