There’s been a lot of talk about taking down monuments of late: The Robert E. Lee statue in Charlottesville. The monument to Gen. P.G.T. Beauregard in New Orleans. The United Daughters of the Confederacy memorial at 55th and Ward Parkway in Kansas City.
All those make sense. Today, let’s talk about adding memorials to recognize a group long overlooked — the thousands of victims of systematic racial terror lynchings.
If you think we’re only talking about the Deep South here, ask a stranger to kick you in the backside. Missouri and Kansas should be considering this because lynchings happened here, too. By the dozen.
In 2015, this newspaper told the story of Korea Strowder, then 94, who recalled the day 82 years earlier when a mob hanged 19-year-old Lloyd Warner from a tree on the courthouse lawn in St. Joseph. Then they set his body on fire.
Strowder pushed her eyes against the glass of a packed bus that day to watch as the mob gathered. She never saw the actual hanging. But as a 13-year-old girl and the only African American on the bus, the memory became hers forever.
“Parents brought their children like they were coming to a picnic,” Strowder recalled.
The third edition of a book from the Equal Justice Initiative — Lynching in America: Confronting the Legacy of Racial Terror — places a spotlight on these most heinous of crimes. It comes complete with photographs that will buckle your knees. If you’re of adult age, you’ve seen black-and-white images like these before. But I found myself staring at the photo on the inside front cover of a white mob in Center, Texas, on Aug. 3, 1920.
The all-male crowd includes many wearing Stetsons. A young boy in a tie in front appears to be laughing. Just above the heads of the adults is the victim, shown only from the knees down, suspended in the air for all time.
It just grabs you.
The Equal Justice Intiative can now document 4,084 lynchings in 12 Southern states between the end of Reconstruction in 1877 and 1950. That’s an uptick of 800 from the last count.
The latest edition improves on previous versions in that it includes a table of eight non-Southern states where lynchings also occurred. Oklahoma leads that list with 76. Right behind is Missouri with 60. Kansas is sixth with 19.
One that occurred in Kansas City involved a black man named Harrington. He was lynched in 1882 from the city’s Fifth Street bridge for killing a cop. Evidence later showed that poor Harrington was innocent, that he had come along after the officer had died.
That wasn’t the only time the mob got it wrong. In fact, justice wasn’t what lynchings were always all about. They were used as a means of control, as a way to send the message that whites were still in charge.
All this explains why so many Missourians were incensed when Rep. Warren Love, an Osceola Republican, spoke out about vandals who defaced a Confederate monument in Springfield. “I hope they are found and hung from a tall tree with a long rope,” he wrote on Facebook.
I understand we don’t want to think about this stuff. I understand that it’s history now. But memorials to the victims of mob violence are a way to remember and a way to heal.
Clearly, we still need to do both.