Community members gathered in Union, Missouri, on July 9 to dedicate a new historical marker in memory of Erastus Brown, a young Black man who was lynched by a white mob in Union on July 10, 1897. Members of the Franklin County Community Remembrance Project coalition installed the marker in partnership with EJI at East Central College.
Community members from Franklin County and surrounding communities, including East Central College President Dr. Jon Bauer, educators, and students, representatives from faith communities and local institutions, and members of the Franklin County Community Remembrance Project coalition gathered with EJI staff to remember the life and lynching of Mr. Brown.
Local leaders and musicians Michelle and John Kiehne performed compelling renditions of “A Change Is Gonna Come,” “Strange Fruit,” and “Rise Up” during the marker unveiling ceremony.
The Lynching of Erastus Brown
In the predawn hours of July 10, 1897, an armed mob of white men brutally lynched Erastus Brown, a Black husband and father of two, near the Bourbeuse River Bridge in Union, Missouri. Mr. Brown was no more than 20 years old at the time of his death.
On July 2, while on his way to get medicine for his sick baby, Mr. Brown was accused of hitting a white woman with a rock. No evidence tied him to the alleged crime, but Mr. Brown was arrested and confined in the local jail.
On July 10, an armed mob of approximately 40 white farmers traveled to Union on horseback. The mob stormed the jail, and with no resistance from the officers on duty, they dragged Mr. Brown to the Bourbeuse River Bridge and hanged him from a willow tree.
The county prosecutor was among several community members who witnessed the lynching or interacted with the mob, but no one was willing to identify members of the mob to local authorities after the lynching of Mr. Brown. The local sheriff said there was “no use” in investigating the lynching.
Tragically, Mr. Brown’s infant child died two days after his lynching.
Community Remembrance Project
EJI’s Community Remembrance Project is part of our campaign to recognize the victims of lynching and advance honest conversation about the legacy of racial terror by collecting soil from lynching sites, erecting historical markers, and inviting community members to visit the Legacy Museum and National Memorial for Peace and Justice in Montgomery, Alabama, where the horrors of these racial injustices are acknowledged.
Through the Community Remembrance Project, EJI has joined with dozens of communities to install historical markers where the history of lynching is documented in our effort to help towns, cities, and states confront and recover from tragic histories of racial violence and terrorism.
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, and police violence to the presumption of guilt and dangerousness that continues to burden people of color today.
Franklin County Community Remembrance Project Coalition
The Franklin County Community Remembrance Project began to develop in 2018 after members of a local organizing group, Neighbors United-Undoing Racism, came together to understand more about their local history of racial injustice in partnership with EJI’s Community Remembrance Project. The group’s mission focused on undoing racism through community engagement and education and they eagerly set out to join EJI’s national effort towards truth, justice, and reconciliation.
After visiting EJI’s Legacy Museum and the National Memorial for Peace and Justice in April 2019, FCCRP hosted a community-wide soil collection in memory of Erastus Brown and a related arts exhibit in July 2019 to mark the 122nd anniversary of Mr. Brown’s lynching. The coalition sent soil to be included in the exhibit at EJI’s Legacy Museum and displayed soil jars in the Washington Historical Society Museum and the Black Archives of Mid-America. FCCRP later launched an EJI Racial Justice Essay Contest in the spring of 2021. Five student winners were awarded a total of $6,000 in scholarship awards from EJI for their participation in the essay contest.
The coalition intends to continue its efforts towards advancing necessary conversations about racial injustice and to build upon their work remembering the life and lynching of Erastus Brown. Supported by leaders, educators, and students at East Central College, FCCRP plans to build a memorial garden around the new historical marker and to host future public education events regarding Franklin County’s local history of racial terrorism.
Lynching in America
Based on EJI’s Lynching in America and Reconstruction in America research, EJI has documented nearly 6,500 racial terror lynchings in America between 1865 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 fatal violence against Black women, men, and children.
Many African Americans were lynched following accusations of violating social customs, engaging in interracial relationships, or committing crimes, even when there was no evidence tying the accused to any offense. It was not uncommon for lynch mobs to seize their victims from jails, prisons, courtrooms, or out of police custody without fear of any legal repercussions. Though armed and legally required to protect the men and women in their custody, police rarely used force to resist white mobs intent on killing Black people—and they sometimes even participated in lynchings.
Racial terror lynchings often included burnings and mutilation, sometimes in front of crowds numbering in the thousands. Many names of those whose lives were claimed by these acts of racially motivated violence were not recorded and will never be known, but at least 60 racial terror lynchings have been documented in Missouri.