Matteo and I have been collaborating on this amazing story for almost a year. With the help of historians, archivists, and the energy and expertise of the people working with The Lynching Sites Project of Memphis, we have very nearly completed research on historical background of this tragedy. We have scouted and filmed almost all the major locations associated with this lynching, and have identified and located descendants of the families and individuals involved in the lynching and are now in the process of interviewing those willing to talk.
Two markers will memorialize the tragic and shameful events that occurred here in the spring of 1917.
Both markers, approved Thursday by the Shelby County Historical Commission, will mention the two victims of those events.
Antoinette Rappel, a 15-year-old white girl who was brutally assaulted and murdered on her way to school April 30, 1917.
Ell Persons, a 50-something black woodcutter accused of the crime who was brutally assaulted and murdered by a lynch mob May 22 that year.
Historically, the Peoples Grocery Lynching is one of the most important lynchings in American history for at least two reasons. First, it caused a large proportion of the African-American community to flee Memphis. Second, it convinced Ida B. Wells to conduct a census of lynchings which systemically researched, catalogued, categorized, and analyzed lynchings in America.
“This country is what it is because (African-Americans) gave our full share and our full measure, as everyone else did. The difference is that we were denied the benefits of our labor,” he said. “When we look today at the problems in the black neighborhoods, we can look back and see that is because we were denied the benefits of our contributions. So, it’s important now to go back and look and understand the truth.”
African-American historian John Ashworth will lead a citywide interfaith prayer service May 21st at the site where Persons was murdered, nearly 100 years to the date it occurred. Newspapers in 1917 created a spectacle of Persons' death for days leading to it, gathering thousands of people to what is now Summer and the Wolf River. After he was set afire, Persons was decapitated and taken to Beale Street, and his head was hurled at a group of black pedestrians.
Another great interview with Bryan Stevenson (excerpt): "Part of our work is aimed at trying to re-engage this country with an awareness and understanding of how our history of racial inequality continues to haunt us. I don’t think we’re free in America — I think we’re all burdened by this history of racial injustice, which has created a narrative of racial difference, which has infected us, corrupted us, and allowed us to see the world through this lens. So it becomes necessary to talk about that history if we want to get free."
The law calls for “the full accounting of all victims whose deaths or disappearances were the result of racially-motivated crimes” and for authorities to hold criminals accountable.
A early leader in the civil rights movement in Florida and the first NAACP official killed in the struggle for civil rights died on Dec. 25, 1951, when a bomb exploded under the floorboards of his bedroom. The murder, done by members of the Ku Klux Klan in retaliation for calls for action against a Southern white sheriff, was never officially solved.
Auslander believes this bag is a national treasure. He says we often think of slavery in the terms of suffering but, “we have to remember the narratives of resilience, of courage and of family continuity. You can't imagine a family being more terribly torn apart than by then by a slave auction of a 9-year-old little girl, but this family story continued.”
“The story of the Negro in America is the story of America,” Jackson says, employing the eloquent words of Baldwin. “It’s not a pretty story.” But it is a troubling and complex one we all must know and do a better job of understanding. Like the brand-new National Museum for African American History and Culture here in Washington, the Memorial to Peace and Justice in Alabama will make that task a little easier.
Dear Friends, our life stories are important. History matters. Many would say memory is sacred and that real human community is not possible without it. We belong to one another as human beings through the common stories of our families, our nation and our local community.
Especially as we plan toward events from February through June 2017 we have many needs for volunteers in addition to the faithful force which is already at work. We need people who care about our mission in such areas as overall planning and coordination, writing, social media, publicity, research, supporting local high school students, engaging artists and musicians in the Project, engaging area religious leaders in the work, and fund-raising.