When a pair of new historical markers on Summer Avenue are unveiled later this month, it will be the latest milestone in current discussions about what happened long ago in Memphis.
The markers will be unveiled at and near the site where Ell Persons was burned by a lynch mob 100 years ago this month.
The May 21 ceremony marks 100 years to the day that a group of men took Persons from a train bringing him back to the city to stand trial for the rape, murder and decapitation of 16-year-old Antoinette Rappel.
The local Lynching Sites Project gathered near the site a year ago to announce their intent.
In addition to the markers, the group hopes to draw a larger crowd than the 5,000 people who gathered by the Wolf River a century ago to watch Persons die.
“I think it’s important to show 100 years later we are going to get a very good turnout again, but their passions will be different,” said John Ashworth, project manager for the Lynching Sites Project.
Sharon Pavelda of the LSP said the group was formed to spotlight harsh chapters of Memphis history that may be hidden but are not forgotten, and to make the city “a safe place to speak and hear the truth.”
Ashworth has been researching Persons’ life and death and coordinating the event, which involves a number of organizations and groups including those involved in last year’s dedication of a historical marker in South Main on the 150th anniversary of the Memphis Massacre – three days of violence in which white mobs including the Memphis Police Department killed 46 African-American citizens and burned every black church and school in the city to the ground...
Iris Love Scott of the LSP cited the ongoing push for criminal justice system reform as part of an “undercurrent” politically connected to lynchings like that of Persons.
“People are afraid again,” she said.
Ashworth also said it is important to recognize that the people in the crowd weren’t all active first-hand participants in killing Persons.
“I’m sure in that crowd of 5,000 people there were people in that crowd who simply went along because something was happening,” he said. “They simply followed the crowd. I do not necessarily think that every heart there was there with the intent, ‘I am going to sit here and watch this spectacle.’ I think they were caught up in the moment.”
An interfaith prayer service will be held at 3 p.m. on May 21 at 5404 Summer Ave. The two markers will be dedicated at noon and 2 p.m. that same day.
Memphis Daily News
Tuesday, May 2, 2017