On June 8, the Montevallo Community Remembrance Coalition unveiled a historical marker recognizing the victims of a double lynching in Shelby County, Alabama, in 1889. The coalition worked in partnership with EJI to plan a historical marker ceremony that was set to take place on April 2, but had to be canceled due to the Covid-19 pandemic. Although a crowd could not gather for a ceremony, members of the coalition held a private unveiling at the corner of Main Street and Shelby Street across from Montevallo City Hall and encouraged members of the community to visit while following appropriate social distancing guidelines.
Lynching in Montevallo
On August 31, 1889, two African American men whose names were not recorded by contemporary news accounts were lynched by a white mob in Montevallo, Alabama.
During this era, deep racial hostility in the South permitted suspicion and presumptions of guilt against Black people to flourish without serious scrutiny. After a white man was killed while interrupting a burglary, a group of armed white men searched the area and apprehended the two unidentified Black men as suspects. When the two men were brought to town, hundreds of angry white citizens gathered, demanding revenge.
Before the two men could be transferred to the Columbiana jail, local officers turned them over to the mob, claiming they feared a “bloody riot” if they did not allow the mob to abduct the two men. Under the threat of lynching, one of the men reportedly confessed to the crime. Often, African Americans accused of crimes were beaten and tortured to obtain confessions that would be used to justify lynchings. The other man, known only as “Big Six,” insisted upon his innocence.
Despite this, the mob hanged both men from a tree. These two Black men were denied their constitutional right to stand trial and were killed by a lawless mob that never faced prosecution. They were two of at least nine African American victims of racial terror lynching killed in Shelby County between 1889 and 1923.
Montevallo Community Remembrance Coalition
In July 2018, Montevallo Mayor Hollie Cost held a community meeting in response to interest in EJI’s Community Remembrance Project. Montevallo citizens who attended the meeting represented institutions and groups, including the University of Montevallo, the Shelby County NAACP, and the Parnell Memorial Library. Those in attendance received Mayor Cost’s encouragement to pursue a Community Remembrance Project in Montevallo with her support.
As conversations advanced, a committed core group of community members came together to form the Montevallo Community Remembrance Coalition by October 2018. The coalition’s goal was to acknowledge and memorialize the lynchings of two African American men in Montevello in 1889. They were killed in Ebenezer Swamp, near the University of Montevallo. Though the men’s names were not recorded in contemporary reports about their lynching, the coalition sought to erect a historical marker to remember their experience.
The Montevallo Community Remembrance Coalition engaged with supportive community organizations, including the Shelby County NAACP, Montevallo Area Ministerial Association, Montevallo Historical Commission, Montevallo Progressive Alliance, Hometown Action, and many other community members in the city of Montevallo and at the University of Montevallo in order to raise awareness and share information about opportunities for public education and conversation.
In conjunction with the planned Historical Marker Project, the Montevallo Community Remembrance Coalition partnered with EJI to host an EJI Racial Justice Essay Contest for Shelby County public high school students. Contest winners received scholarship prizes totaling $5,000. The four winning students are Sabrina Brunner (10th grade, 1st place), Karola Cerrato (12th grade, 2nd place), Trion Fancher (11th grade, 3rd place), and Hannah Faulkner (12th grade, 4th place). Sabrina’s winning essay, titled “Educational Injustices,” reflected on the legacy of disparities in access to education for children of color and how it continues to impact Alabama’s students.
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.
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, police violence, and the presumption of guilt and dangerousness that burdens people of color today.