The Walker County, Georgia, Remembrance Coalition unveiled a historical marker on September 19 that recognizes Henry White, a Black man who was lynched in 1916. The coalition worked in partnership with EJI to install the marker on the grounds of the Marsh-Warthen-Clements House in LaFayette, Georgia.
Originally scheduled to take place in July, the coalition postponed the installation of the marker due to Covid-19. Although a large crowd could not gather for the unveiling, the coalition held a small, socially-distanced ceremony that featured a Reconciliation Walk and remarks from local clergy and community representatives from the Walker County African American Historical and Alumni Association, Inc., and the Theodore R. and Cathene B. Mitchell Memorial Foundation, as well as the Mayor of LaFayette and the Walker County Sheriff. The coalition encourages community members to safely visit the marker.
The Lynching of Henry White
On September 20, 1916, a 24-year-old Black man named Henry White was lynched by a large white mob in the city of Durham in Walker County, Georgia. Mr. White had come to Durham from Chattanooga, Tennessee, and worked as a miner in the Pittsburg-Durham coal mines.
Earlier that morning, it was reported that the white daughter of a local justice of the peace had been assaulted by a Black man. Without investigation or further scrutiny, a mob of at least 300 white men quickly gathered with guns and hounds to search for the alleged assailant. After a few hours, the mob found Mr. White and presumed he was guilty of the assault. It was later reported that Mr. White and this white woman may have been in a consensual relationship. Nearly 25% of all documented cases of racial terror lynching during this era involved accusations of sexual assault.
When the mob confronted Mr. White, an exchange of gunfire ensued. Mr. White was wounded as he tried to resist the mob’s attack and he was captured. The mob made “no attempt at secrecy” to conceal their identities or plans, even after law enforcement officers arrived. Despite their legal authority, the officers made no arrests and failed to restrain the mob.
Reports stated that Mr. White confessed, pleading for his constitutional right to trial. Denying his plea, the mob hanged him from a tree with a log chain. Henry White’s death was officially ruled a homicide but no one was held accountable for his lynching.
Walker County, Georgia, Remembrance Coalition
In August 2018, a group of citizens in Walker County began working together to form a coalition and bring attention to the legacy of racial injustice in the Lookout Mountain region. Led by Beverly Foster, Emma Jones, and Dr. David Boyle, the group was inspired to begin the project after Ms. Jones visited the National Memorial for Peace and Justice in the summer of 2018.
They also drew inspiration from the Walker County Historical Society and the LaFayette Presbyterian Church, which were encouraging reconciliation projects. One year later, in August 2019, the Walker County, Georgia, Remembrance Coalition submitted a proposal to begin an EJI Historical Marker Community Remembrance Project. Their goal was to educate and engage the citizens of Walker County and the broader Lookout Mountain region about the legacy of racial terror lynching and to memorialize its victims.
In January 2021, the coalition, in partnership with EJI, will launch an EJI Racial Justice Essay Contest for Walker County public high school 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 was most prevalent in the South, but EJI has documented racial terrorism beyond Southern borders, 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. 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 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.