(Left to right) Kathy King, Debra Harton Love, Kathy Lowe, and Amanda Melcher led the discussion. Photo by Jasmine Baxter
“Until very recently, lynching was something I knew about from photographs,” remarked presenter Kathy King as she stood in front of the crowded Pat Scales Special Collection Room. “Like many of you, I’m sure, I would look at them. They were black and white. They were distant. They happened somewhere else.”
She paused there, visibly collecting her thoughts before she began to describe the part Montevallo plays at The National Memorial for Peace and Justice—a monument that commemorates victims of lynching in the United States.
“When you go to Montgomery, if you haven’t been yet, there’s a slide of the soil collection jars. There’s one that says Montevallo, and it will hurt, I promise you.”
As the coalition co-leader of Montevallo’s Community Remembrance Project, King was one of three women to spend the evening of Feb. 12 recapping their experiences with the town’s history.
The trio discussed two separate incidents—the lynching of A.T. Hardin and Dan A. Pippins in the 1930s, and two black men—one known only as “Big Six”—in the 1880s.
According to Kathy Lowe, Carmichael Library’s head of reference, information about the double lynching was first uncovered by Dr. John Roy Steelman, a sociology professor at the University of Montevallo from 1928 to 1934.
While secretly investigating on behalf of The Southern Commission on the Study of Lynching, he became involved in a case study about a young white girl who was murdered in Tuscaloosa. After her body was found, Pippins, 18; Hardin, 15; and Elmore “Honey” Clark, 28, were accused, arrested and jailed for the murder.
Months later, while being transferred for their own safety, they were lynched by a mob of townspeople. The only reason their story can be heard today is because Clark survived to testify to the court.
Recently, Lowe was able to pass the information to Debra Love, A.T. Hardin’s great-niece, to offer closure and reconciliation for her family.
“Can you imagine that the reason they gave for arresting Dan was that he had a funny look on his face?” Love added. “It’s still unclear why they arrested A.T. and why they arrested Honey, but they had families. Families who hurt even today, especially when you don’t talk about it.”
“For so many years, it was like they didn’t exist. They were human beings. They were young. Dan Pippins was the only child his parents had, the only one. Can you imagine what their life was like after that?”
Love could vividly detail the pain her mother felt the weekend of her uncle’s death, which was still prominent when they went to collect soil for the national memorial more than 80 years later.
The lynching of the other two men, however, was a completely different situation. Neither of them have any known family.
Reportedly, they were both blamed for the murder of John Lawrence, a white man who was shot while attempting to stop a burglary at a grocery store on Main Street.
The subsequent lynching took place less than 50 yards away, and police reports place the incident in front of the present City Hall.
“The two African American males who died left little mark on the historical record, however,” King recounted. “We don’t know their names, we don’t know their families, we don’t know their origins. Their lives didn’t matter.”
“It wouldn’t have occurred to white folks to report whether they had wives or children, whether they were mourned by brothers, sisters, or friends. They were just ‘lynched negros.’”
Several audience members were overcome with tears, discreetly wiping their faces as others shifted uncomfortably in their seats.
The emotion in the room was best captured by senior social work major Rebekah Koen:
“Like the second woman who spoke said, it’s important to give these people names and tell their history and let other people know that they’re more than just a gruesome figure in an old black and white photograph. And equally as important is showing people that lynching isn’t some old phenomenon that stopped about a hundred years ago. There were people in the audience who wanted so badly to distance themselves from the violence we spoke about, and having discussions like the one today forces them to see America’s ugly racial history for what it was, and to see how it affects black people today.”