March 19, 2021
The Honorable Governor of Tennessee
1st Floor, State Capitol
Nashville, TN 37243
Re: Scheduled Execution of Pervis Payne
Dear Governor Lee,
We are writing as an organization that was founded to identify and memorialize the people and locations of the lynchings that occurred in Shelby County, Tennessee during the time of racial terror in our country following the Civil War. We are committed to turn the light of truth on these horrible events, because we believe that is the only way we can move forward as a county, state and country.
We are opposed to the execution of Pervis Payne, a citizen of our county, based on the circumstances surrounding his case. This is a case that cries out for mercy, so that justice can be done.
Shelby County is among the 25 counties with the most recorded lynchings between 1877 and 1950 in the United States. Unfortunately, part of this legacy that we still grapple with today is to repeat the errors of the past and jump to the conclusion anytime there is a murder involving a white person, that a black person at or near the scene must be guilty. The facts in the Payne case replicate this shameful pattern.
In addition, Payne lives with an intellectual disability, which means it is unconstitutional to execute him. There is recent DNA evidence that casts doubt on the prosecution’s case.
As the psalmist wrote of King Solomon, we are praying that you will search your soul and commute the sentence of Pervis Payne.
Endow the king with your justice, O God,
the royal son with your righteousness.
May he judge your people in righteousness,
your afflicted ones with justice.
The Lynching Sites Project of Memphis