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.
Many thanks to Martha Parks and the Memphis Flyer for this wonderful article about the involvement of high school students in the Ell Persons story:
This time last year, the 100th anniversary of Ell Persons' lynching seemed far on the horizon. A lot has happened over the course of the year, as Memphians have rallied around the work of the Lynching Sites Project.
Some Memphians are trying to make sure a dark chapter of our history is not forgotten.
There are about 200 historical markers in Memphis, but only one of them commemorates a lynching: the People's Grocery marker at Walker Avenue and Mississippi Boulevard.
Activists are trying to change that.
Lynching Sites Project said each of the more than 30 recorded lynchings that happened in Shelby County since the Civil War should be recognized and remembered.
So, it appears, do Memphians Howard and Beverly Robertson of Trust Marketing, who this week, at the National Civil Rights Museum, were to unveil a campaign on behalf of the Lynching Sites Project of Memphis, described in their press release as "a nonprofit Tennessee organization formed to locate and mark known lynching sites."
Oliver Clasper, a friend of the Lynching Sites Project of Memphis, has had his photographs incorporated into an article "Focusing on the Hidden Horror of American Lynchings,” published in The Atlantic’s web magazine City Lab.
Ollie gives credit to the Equal Justice Initiative, NAACP, and the Lynching Sites Project of Memphis, with particular note to Clarence Christian.
An empty trestle bridge spans a grey river. White-washed doors lean on the side of a barn. Telephone poles and a tin shed frame a half-mowed ravine.
by Carla Peacher-Ryan
On Thursday, April 6, at the Cannon Center, Hattiloo Theatre, in partnership with the Memphis Symphony Orchestra, presented an original performance - "The Strange Fruit". Conceived by Ekundayo Bandele, executive director of Hattiloo, the show is a compilation of work by the two presenting partners, as well as Collage Dance Collective, Le Chorale a cappella choir, with narratives from Rychetta Watkins and Phil Darius Wallace. It is a work that deals with lynching and was sparked by the work of the Lynching Sites Project of Memphis.
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.”