Plaque to mark site of last public lynching in Columbia, Missouri

COLUMBIA, Mo. – The site of Columbia’s last public lynching will be recognized with a plaque and could eventually become part of a trail highlighting the black history of the community.

Civic Relations Manager Toni Messina said the marker, which recalls the 1923 death of James T. Scott, is part of an effort to recognize important historical sites and wrongs in the city’s history.

“The idea of this is: ‘Let’s not forget what happened,’ ” Messina told the Columbia Daily Tribune.

Scott, a black University of Missouri custodian, was lynched about a week after he was accused of raping a white 14-year-old girl.

Based on Scott’s mustache, the girl identified him as her attacker from a distance of at least 30 feet.

Despite the scant evidence, a white mob with as many as 2,000 onlookers broke into Scott’s cell and dragged him away with a noose around his neck.

The crowd ignored the girl’s father, who argued against lynching Scott.

“I know I am going to die, but I am innocent,” he told the crowd, according to a Tribune article from that day.

A University of Missouri organization called the Association of Black Graduate and Professional Students raised money for the plaque, which the Columbia City Council was accepting Monday.

The group’s Lest We Forget online fundraising effort brought in $1,935 toward a $1,500 goal in four months, according to their GoFundMe page.

Already, a new headstone for Scott was placed at the Columbia Cemetery in 2011. The cause of death on Scott’s death certificate also was changed to “asphyxia due to hanging by lynching by assailants,” and a line saying he had committed rape was altered to say he was never tried or convicted of the crime.

A proposed 2-mile long historic trail through the central also is being discussed.

The black history trail would start near the plaque marking the site of Scott’s lynching and incorporate other important locations.

Some of the sites already have markers, including one dedicated to the black Columbia business district that was razed in the 1960s during the city’s first phase of urban renewal. Proposed locations for future markers on the trail include former sites of black-owned businesses, homes and churches.