On Saturday, the Lowndes County Community Remembrance Coalition, in partnership with EJI, dedicated a historical marker in remembrance of Ed Bracy, Jim Press Meriweather, and G. Smith Watkins, three Black sharecroppers and union leaders who were lynched in Lowndes County, Alabama, in 1935.
Installed in Fort Deposit, the historical marker is located on the grounds of Hopewell Church, originally called Mt. Willing Church. Built in 1832 by enslaved people who were forced to sit in the segregated sections when they attended service, the Hopewell Church currently is in the process of being preserved as an historical site. “Slavery as it exists among us,” read an 1860 letter in the Hayneville Chronicle, “is sanctioned by the Constitution, by the Bible, and it ought to be extended.”
Lynching Targeting Black Sharecroppers
In 1935, hundreds of Black sharecroppers in Lowndes County staged a strike to protest poor pay and mistreatment. In response, white mobs and local law enforcement arrested and attacked Black leaders in a terror campaign, lynching at least three Black men within two weeks.
On August 22, a white mob shot prominent Black leader Jim Press Meriweather and left him to die in the woods. The mob then demanded information from his wife, Annie Mae. When she refused, the mob stripped her, hanged her from a wooden beam, and beat her unconscious with a knotted rope. Though the mob left her for dead, Mrs. Meriweather survived.
Six days later, police arrested G. Smith Watkins, a Black preacher who helped lead the strike. Rev. Watkins never reached the jail. His body was found weeks later; he had been shot to death in a swamp near the county line.
On September 2, a white mob organized by the Lowndes County Sheriff ambushed Black leader Ed Bracy at his home in Hope Hull and fatally shot him 19 times in the neck and head.
White Supremacy in Lowndes County
Between 1819 and 1860, Alabama’s enslaved population grew from 40,000 to 435,000. Lowndes County had the fifth largest enslaved population in Alabama and the 12th largest nationwide.
After the South lost the Civil War in 1865, many white people remained committed to white supremacy and determined to use violence to oppress and exploit Black people. Between 1877 and 1950, white mobs lynched thousands of African Americans to intimidate Black communities and enforce racial hierarchy.
Jim Press Meriweather, G. Smith Watkins, and Ed Bracy were lynched to preserve white supremacy and warn the entire Black community not to demand equality. State and federal authorities did little to investigate the racialized anti-union attacks in Lowndes County, even after Mrs. Meriweather bravely testified before federal authorities in Washington, D.C. Of the more than 360 racial terror lynching victims documented in Alabama, at least 16 were killed in Lowndes County.
Lowndes County Community Remembrance Coalition
In February 2019, Josephine Bolling McCall, the daughter of Elmore Bolling (who was lynched in Lowndes County in 1947), brought together the Elmore Bolling Foundation and the Lowndes County Friends of the Civil Rights Movement (LCFRM) to create the Lowndes County Community Remembrance Coalition. Guided by the rich traditions of activism in Lowndes County, the coalition mobilized foot soldiers of the civil rights movement, local Black activists, and community members to engage the community in repair dialogue and narrative change efforts.
In conjunction with the dedication of the historical marker, the Lowndes County Community Remembrance Coalition hosted a Racial Justice Essay Contest in collaboration with EJI and awarded a total of $2,500 in scholarships. The winners were Kensley Rodriguez (First Place), Devontae Rudolph (Honorable Mention), and Jalyn Zinn (Honorable Mention).
The coalition held a soil collection ceremony last month to memorialize 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).
EJI has partnered with members of the coalition to install two additional historical markers in Lowndes County. In August 2016, EJI partnered with community members to dedicate a marker in memory of the Cross family. On March 3, 1900, a mob lynched Jim Cross, a Black man, and his wife, son, and daughter, after he condemned the lynching of another Black man. No one was ever arrested for their killings.
In December 2020, a historical marker was installed at the Lowndes County Courthouse in Hayneville, Alabama, to memorialize the 1888 lynching of Theo Calloway. Accused of killing a white man, Mr. Calloway was abducted from police custody by a mob of at least 200 white men and hanged from a chinaberry tree on the courthouse lawn. His lifeless body riddled with bullets, Mr. Calloway was killed just hours before he was scheduled to appear in court.
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 our 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 we currently face from mass incarceration, excessive punishment, police violence, and the presumption of guilt and dangerousness that burdens people of color today.