The Lowndes County Community Remembrance Coalition partnered with EJI to install a historical marker to memorialize the 1888 lynching of Theo Calloway. The marker stands on the grounds of the Lowndes County Courthouse in Hayneville, Alabama.
The marker was installed on November 18 in a small, socially distanced gathering outside the courthouse that included several descendants of Mr. Calloway.
On December 12, the coalition hosted a virtual gathering, during which more than 70 people came together to watch a commemorative video made in honor of Mr. Calloway. The coalition had planned a historical marker dedication ceremony for April 26 that had to be canceled due to the Covid-19 global pandemic.
Theo Calloway Lynched on the Courthouse Lawn
In March 1888, a 24-year-old Black man named Theo Calloway was accused of killing a white man. Mr. Calloway insisted that he had acted in self-defense and awaited his opportunity to make his case in court. But he never had the chance to stand trial.
On March 29, 1888, a mob of at least 200 white men abducted Mr. Calloway from jail just hours before he was scheduled to appear in court. They hung him from a chinaberry tree on the courthouse lawn and riddled his body with bullets.
Later that day, Mr. Calloway’s parents arrived to attend their son’s court hearing. Instead, they learned of their son’s lynching and had to retrieve his mangled corpse.
Like all racial terror lynchings, the murder of Mr. Calloway was intended to terrorize the entire Black community, but for months afterward, Lowndes County’s Black residents protested Mr. Calloway’s lynching. Their calls for accountability were ignored and they were criminalized for seeking justice. The same local law enforcement and state officials who had failed to prevent the illegal mob murder of Mr. Calloway violently confronted and arrested dozens of Black people for demanding justice on his behalf.
Built in 1856, the Lowndes County Courthouse is the oldest continuously operating courthouse in Alabama. It represents a legal system that tolerated generations of racial terror lynching. At least seven African American victims of racial terror lynching in Lowndes County were seized from jail or police custody before they were killed.
Though law enforcement officers were legally required to protect people in their custody, they rarely used force to protect Black people from lynching. Instead, police allowed white mobs to commit brazen and public killings with impunity, sending a clear message that Black lives were not valued or protected by the rule of law.
Although Mr. Calloway was lynched on the courthouse lawn, the perpetrators were not held accountable. He is one of 16 documented victims of racial terror lynching in Lowndes County. Memorializing these known and unknown victims reminds us to remain persistent and diligent in the pursuit of justice for all.
Lowndes County Community Remembrance Coalition
The Lowndes County Community Remembrance Coalition was formed in February 2019 by The Elmore Bolling Foundation and The Lowndes County Friends of the Civil Rights Movement (LCFRM). Under the leadership of Josephine Bolling McCall, the daughter of Elmore Bolling (who was lynched in Lowndes County in 1947), the coalition is an intergenerational group of local Black activists, foot soldiers of the civil rights movement, and community members.
In conjunction with this 2020 historical marker, the Lowndes County Community Remembrance Coalition hosted a Racial Justice Essay Contest in collaboration with EJI. Two winners and two honorable mentions were publicly announced on October 21 and awarded a total of $5,000 in scholarships. The winners were Rheonna Rudolph (First Place), Zaniah Williams (Second Place), and Devontae Rudolph and Jalyn Zinn (Honorable Mentions).
In December 2019, the coalition erected a historical marker memorializing the lynchings of three Black sharecroppers—Ed Bracy, Jim Press Meriweather, and Rev. G. Smith Watkins—who dared to seek better conditions for Black workers. The marker is located in Ft. Deposit, Alabama, and was unveiled at a ceremony held on December 19, 2019.
In November 2019, the coalition held a powerful community soil collection event for eight documented victims of racial terror lynching in Lowndes County: G. Smith Watkins (1935), William Westmoreland (1896), Jim Press Meriweather (1935), Neil Quinn (1931), Ed Bracy (1935), Joe Souls (1933), Theo Calloway (1888), and William Jones (1914).
Lynching in America
In Lynching in America and Reconstruction in America, EJI 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 outside the South, 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. Calloway, 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 lynching 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.