My journey back to Memphis and ultimately the site of the lynching of Ell Persons began with some basic historical research of my family. My Great Grandfather was one of the Memphis Police City Detectives who investigated the murder of Antoinette Rappel in 1917. He was also involved with the interrogation of Ell Persons and and was one of the authorities who successfully transported him to Nashville after the forced confession. No one living in my family today ever knew about this tragic murder back in 1917 as well as the horrific lynching that subsequently occurred. My Great Grandfather died seven years before I was even born.
If it were not for the LSP of Memphis and the book by Dr. Margaret Vandiver, I would have never known about the events of 1917. I wanted to understand these events more and made my way back to Memphis where five generations of my family grew up since 1855. I contacted Jessica Orians at the LSP whom I cannot thank enough for help in coordinating the visit to the site. She also put me in contact with Margaret Vandiver. I was overwhelmed to say the least to be able to visit the lynching site when I was accompanied by John Ashworth, Leonard Blakely, Dr. Vandiver, Jim Withey, Rev. Fred Morton and Randy Gamble.
Randy led us to the site and he turned to me before we left and quoted Ida Wells saying “the way to right wrongs is to turn the light of truth on them”. I also commend the LSP site for your main objective to allow people to heal and grow by facing openly the history of racial injustice. I will never know what was truly in my Great Grandfather’s heart, however this experience has brought to me a better understanding of these tragic events and the impact it had on so many lives.
My heartfelt thanks to all of those that I have mentioned….Tom