LSP's Service to Commemorate the 79th Anniversary of the lynching of Jesse Lee Bond
Especially through the work of Tom Carlson we have been engaged in Arlington for the last two years. Tom’s research on the 1939 lynching of Jesse Lee Bond laid a strong foundation for further work. Tom built relationships with Mr. Charlie Morris, 97, Mr. Bond’s half brother, with Mr. Sylvester Lewis, 87, a cousin and a member of the Shelby County Historical Commission and with Gray’s Creek Missionary Baptist Church where Mr. Bond is buried. Tom produced a professional audio production of Charlie Morris telling the story as he remembered it, and with filmmaker Matteo Servente produced “An Accidental Drowning,” a six minute independent film which won the best film award in the MLK50 category at the Memphis Independent Film Festival. Mr. Morris traveled to Nashville to testify in front of legislative committees on behalf of the Cold Cases Bill, which empowers the reopening of past unsolved cases that include such lynchings. The televisions series, “American Divided” (EPIX cable channel) contacted the LSP about the story and made 3 trips to Memphis to film an episode that will air on .
An effort to open up conversation with descendants of the known perpetrators of the lynching was unsuccessful. And in an effort to get a grave marker for Jesse Lee Bond’s unmarked grave in Arlington, an LSP delegation to the church in M
ay 2017, which included Sylvester Lewis, was met with a clear “please don’t contact us again about this.” There seemed to be more fear present than we had even begun to expect.
Finally, we had not yet located anyone from within the Arlington community who would give some leadership to the kind of healing conversation that is always needed when a lynching that has been lost to history is unburied. There is still much work to be done in this crucial part of the conversation. However ……….
Last Saturday Evening’s Service to Commemorate the 79th Anniversary of the Lynching
In light of where the progress had taken us, we had planned a small prayer service for maybe 10-15 people, with virtually none from Arlington, to at least make a small statement on the 79th anniversary and to set the course for a larger commemoration on the 80th anniversary, . We would have a simple candlelight vigil and then get back to work.
But a number of wonderful things happened that upended our meager expectations. Last November McKinley Doty, a 2012 graduate of Arlington High School who now works as a journalist in Washington D.C. began to contact other alumni on behalf of Arlington. After some ups and downs including family illness, McKinley wrote an excellent op-ed article and David Waters at the Commercial Appeal published it on the day of the service. We met Rev. Gordon Myers, pastor of Living Word Lutheran Church, located just three blocks from Depot Square who offered important support and hospitality. Rev. Larry Chitwood, a United Methodist pastor who lives in Arlington joined the conversation.
After all of this we thought that attendance might reach about 30 so we printed 50 programs just to be sure and Leonard Blakely bought 50 candles so we could see what it wold be like to include candles in the service. Lora Chatfield organized a dinner before the service hosted at Living Word Lutheran Church with about 30 attending, but only one from Arlington.
When we arrived at the town square for the service, about 70 people were waiting. We ran out of programs and candles. Among the 70 were 3 AHS alumni, 2 of whom spoke in the service and 8 members of the extended family of Jesse Lee Bond, some of whom had just driven home from the major opening of the memorial in Montgomery. Rev. Larry Chitwood and Rev. Dr. Almella Starks-Umoja led the service. The start meant that dusk was turning into darkness just as the time came to light the candles. At least three professional journalists were present, two of them photographers, so the evening will be amplified in other ways. At least 35 active members of the Lynching sites Project made the trip from Memphis to Arlington to be present, and that trip included a one-hour back-up on I-40. There were more present from Arlington but we did not meet all of them.
The service was simple and only about one-half hour long. As we lit candles a full moon began to rise in the east.
The service was blessed and punctuated by the spontaneous solo version of Amazing Grace by Rev. Dr. Ronald Morris, Jr., the nephew of Jesse Lee Bond.
Most of us left grateful and amazed. And thanks to Rev. Larry Chitwood, a follow-up meeting, a “Listening Circle,” will be held at on at Macedonia United Methodist Church in Arlington. Everyone is welcome.
The conversation is always difficult and challenging. But it seemed clear that the Spirit of the Universe was working overtime on our behalf so we are motivated to get back to work.
We are now blessed with a long list of ongoing supporters for a healing and hopeful conversation in Arlington, a number of whom will be actively involved. Fed Morton and I are honored to serve as co-conveners of the group.
Randall Mullins, Co-Convener
Arlington Working Group for the Lynching Sites Project