As part of its Community Remembrance Project, EJI unveiled an historical marker yesterday that documents the lynchings of seven victims in Letohatchee, Alabama, and recognizes 14 documented lynchings that took place in Lowndes County.
Dozens participated in the dedication ceremony at Rehobeth Missionary Church in Letohatchee, braving the rain to pray and reflect together on the history of racial terrorism in Lowndes County.
EJI has documented more than 4000 racial terror lynchings in 12 Southern states between the end of Reconstruction in 1877 and 1950. The lynching of African Americans during this era was a form of racial terrorism intended to intimidate black people and enforce racial hierarchy and segregation.
After the Civil War, violent resistance to equal rights for African Americans and an ideology of white supremacy led to violent abuse of racial minorities and decades of political, social, and economic exploitation. 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.
Many of the names of lynching victims were not recorded and will never be known, but over 300 documented lynchings took place in Alabama alone. Lowndes County had fourteen documented lynchings – among the ten highest of all counties in the state.
Lynching in Letohatchee
In early 1900, a white mob lynched a black man in Letohatchee, Alabama, without investigation or trial, after he was accused of killing a white man. Lawless killings of black people were common at the time, and allegations against black people were rarely subject to scrutiny.
After the lynching, a local black man named Jim Cross condemned the violence. Soon, that activism made him a target. On March 3, 1900, a mob of white men shot and killed Jim Cross in the doorway of his Letohatchee home, then entered and killed Mr. Cross’s wife, son, and daughter. No one was ever arrested for these lynchings.
Years later, on July 24, 1917, William Powell and his brother, whose first name was reported as Samuel or Jesse, were also lynched in Letohatchee. Some white newspapers claimed the brothers were wanted for highway robbery, but more detailed reports indicated that the young black men had merely been "insolent" to a white farmer after brushing against his horse on the road. After an argument erupted, the Powell brothers were arrested, seized by a mob of 100 white men, and hung from a tree along the road between Letohatchee and Hayneville. No one was punished.
These seven people lynched in Letohatchee, Alabama, were victims of racial terrorism that aimed to restore white supremacy while denying black people the rights of citizenship and the protection of the law.
Community Remembrance Project
EJI has initiated a campaign to recognize the victims of lynching by collecting soil from lynching sites and erecting historical markers that acknowledge the horrors of racial injustice.
We aim to transcend time and altered terrain to bear witness to this history and the devastation these murders wrought upon individuals, families, communities, and our nation as a whole.
EJI believes that truthfully acknowledging this history is vital to healing and reconciliation.
The dedication ceremony featured the winners of the Racial Justice High School Essay Contest, which was open to all high school students living in or attending school in Lowndes County. The first place prize of $3000 was awarded to Central High School 10th grader Yamiri B. Mants (pictured) for his essay, "Things Remain the Same."
Kiara Coleman, a 10th grader at the Calhoun School, won second place ($1500) for her essay, "Annette Butler, Oscar Grant." Third place ($1000) went to Central High School senior Mercedes Rudolph for her essay, "The Rape of Annette Butler." And Calhoun School students Trinity Whiting and Arianna Armstrong tied for fourth place ($500 each).