Aug 05, 2022
It’s Way Too Hard to Put Up a Monument to Lynching Victims
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Just off a street corner in Mobile, Alabama, a historic marker spells out the grisly details of Richard Robertson’s 1909 lynching. The real story told between its embossed metallic lines is about a community’s death grip on mythology and why these memorials are needed.
For nearly a year, the Mobile County Community Remembrance Project (MCCRP) has fought to control the Robertson plaque’s location.Paid for by the Equal Justice Initiative (EJI)—a Montgomery-based non-profit providing legal defense for wrongful prosecution and bringing awareness to historic race-based injustices—the $3,000 marker was the first in a planned series memorializing the county’s race-based lynching victims from 1877-1950. Twice now, MCCRP has navigated the required governmental processes to install the Robertson marker in public, with each of two selected sites thwarted by official powers at the last moment.
After a protracted civic fight, it was eventually placed in an obscure spot chosen without MCCRP’s approval—where it stands today.
Critics have questioned the memorial’s necessity, deeming it divisive. “Does this represent who we are now?” they ask. However, judging from the tone and substance of the pushback, elements of the lynching era might not be as bygone as they wish.
NO HISTORICAL DUE PROCESS FOR A LYNCHING VICTIM
Robertson was a Black man accused of killing a white sheriff’s deputy in January 1909. A mob pulled him from jail into the street where he was shot, then hanged. His body dangled from an oak tree for at least an hour afterward. When a federal attorney determined lax law enforcement ignored ample warning of the imminent lynching, Mobile’s sheriff lost his job.
Despite his scandalous demise, most Mobilians don’t know Robertson’s name. He is, however, enshrined at EJI’s National Memorial for Peace and Justice in Montgomery, Alabama—a monument for roughly 4,400 lynched Black Americans.
EJI sparked county-level observance, too, with markers erected by local groups nationwide. Like similar memorials in South Africa and Germany, the goal is to cultivate awareness and mindful caution. Over 300 active coalitions have arisen in communities across the country with monuments erected in 20 states.
Mobile County Commissioner Merceria Ludgood—the only Black person on the commission—convened the MCCRP in 2019, the same month as the 110th anniversary of Robertson’s death. The group laid out EJI’s vision and met public sector requirements to install historic markers.
They were diligent and mindful. I know because I witnessed their process. A year prior to the group’s formation, I researched all of the lynching victims from Mobile County that are listed by EJI—Zachariah Graham, Richard Robinson, Will Thompson, Moses Dossett, Robertson, William Walker, and James Lewis. That’s why my curiosity was piqued, and my input sought.
I also knew MCCRP would meet resistance. Local culture is invested in a self-image of Mobile as “better” in race relations than other Alabama towns—more evolved than deadly places like Birmingham, Selma, and Anniston.
That perception stemmed from the 20th century civil rights work of Black Mobilian John LeFlore. He is enshrined with a public statue alongside white Mobile politico Joe Langan. One of three city commissioners from 1953-1969, Langan's more inclusive perspective helped desegregate facilities and hire a handful of Black police officers.
But even LeFlore recognized Mobilians’ fables. In 1970, he said, “We believe the matter of Mobile being unsurpassed…in good race relations is a myth.” He praised federal powers and civil rights actions that took place in cities like Selma, Birmingham, and Montgomery—which “eased our situation” and created “a favorable sort of climate that would not have otherwise existed.”
Mobile would always be a former Creole frontier town made fantastically notable by King Cotton. The antebellum era and Jim Crow sentiments were foundational to its relevance. And its legacy of lynching can’t be swept under the rug of history.
In 1906, Mobile mobs threatened Will Thompson and Dick Robinson—two Black prisoners accused of assault—to the point authorities moved them to Birmingham for safekeeping. Immediately afterward, a catastrophic hurricane struck. Newspaper headlines read, “NEGROES LOOTING HOMES OF DEAD” and blamed Black Mobilians for theft and corpse mutilation.
Days later, a lynch party of hundreds met the train that returned Thompson and Robinson to Mobile for trial. One vigilante told the accompanying press his colleagues were “leading businessmen of Mobile.” They admitted lynching was undertaken outside city limits to intentionally avoid leaving “a stain upon Mobile that would take years to wipe out,” the Daily Item, a long defunct area newspaper, reported.
The mob marched the prisoners toward Africatown, a community of independent-minded Blacks, descendants of captives from the nation’s final slaving ship. On its outskirts, the crowd killed the prisoners. The victims hung in the trees from midday to afternoon while thousands of Mobilians streamed northward on the streetcars to gawk at the grisly spectacle. Postcard photos were snapped. Souvenirs were nicked from the victims. (A year later, Moses Dossett was hanged from the same tree in a driving storm.)
Less than three years later, Lynch law was clearly in the air when Robertson was delivered to jail, accused of killing a sheriff’s deputy. In short order, the mob dragged him into the street and murdered him. His murder’s direct negation of law enforcement, plus its location at the heart of downtown, made it both unseemly and unignorable—all of which made it a natural choice for MCCRP’s initial plaque, to draw attention to oncoming memorials.
News Source: thedailybeast.com
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Evans said she was among those whose account was placed in a database run by the Global Internet Forum to Counter Terrorism
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Meta requested the lawsuit against it be chucked out in June, but hearings are scheduled for September
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