By Josie Shaw, Managing editor of production
Corrected on March 2 at 3:42 to correct quote from Dr. Kathy King.
In the eleventh paragraph, it said that Kathy King said, “The people who owned the house that stood in this lot removed the hearts of the two men who were hanged and placed them on the fence around the house.” It should have said, “The people who owned the house that stood in this lot removed the hats of the two men who were hanged and placed them on the fence around the house.”
On Feb. 16 a group of students from de Toledo High School in Los Angeles visited Main Street Montevallo as the conclusion of a 5-day trip touring historical southern sites from the civil rights movement.
Across the street from Montevallo Town Hall sits a marker established by the Montevallo Community Remembrance Coalition and the Equal Justice Initiative in 2020. The marker details a double lynching that happened in the general location in 1889.
Several Black leaders of Montevallo spoke at the event, including Joyce Jones, Dr. Paul Mahaffey, Dr. Gregory Samuels and Rev. Kenneth Dukes.
Dr. Kathy King started the event off by detailing events leading up to the lynching.
“It had been raining. It was hot, it was muggy. And there was a whole town of white people filled with a desire for revenge, retribution,” said King.
The marker tells the story of what happened that night.
In late Aug. 1889, an attempted burglary was committed at F.W. Rogan’s Store on Main Street, which is now Providence Baptist Church. In response, a man living above the general store attempted to impede the burglary and was murdered in the process.
Looking for revenge, a group of armed white men scoured the countryside for suspects, and captured two unnamed Black men. Before the men were transferred to the Columbiana Jail, the police handed the two men over to the mob under threat of public riot.
Under threat of lynching, one of the men falsely confessed to the crime, while the other insisted on his innocence. Despite this, the mob hung the men from a tree.
“The Black community at that time was spread out on the outskirts of town and right across the creek. In order for those folks to come to downtown, what did they have to go past? The hanging tree with bodies hanging from it,” said King.
King continued, “The people who owned the house that stood in this lot removed the hats of the two men who were hanged and placed them on the fence around the house. And they were very explicit about this as a message to the Black folks in town.”
King finished the story saying, “So EJI talks a lot about racial terrorism. That’s what this was about. And it happened right here.”
One day previous to visiting the marker, the students visited EJI’s The Legacy Museum in Montgomery, an immersive and narrative experience of America’s history of Black racial injustice from enslavement to mass incarceration. In line with the marker, there is an exhibit at the museum that details the known and unknown history of the victims of lynching and racial terrorism.
Throughout their stay in the south, the students also visited Memphis, Birmingham and Selma.
Rabbi Adrianne Pasternak, who is the Director of Immersive Experiences, lead de Toledo High School students throughout their trip.
Pasternak commented, “It was really important to me that we see the museums and all of those important places, but also that we see the small towns and meet people who grow up here and who lived here and who could tell their personal story, so we could connect person to person.”
This sentiment was mirrored by the students when they took a moment of reflection by speaking prepared speeches at the event.
“It’s one thing to read this in a textbook, and it’s another to learn it in real life and to see where all of these terrible things happened, and also see where all the great things happened. And it’s been a really big help to learn and stand at the place where all of these events occurred, so that way we can know more about it and just really stand in the footsteps of everyone who was here before us,” commented student Sammy Gore.
Samuels said, “When people walk on the other side of the street opposite of this marker, they’re telling us how they feel about lynching and racism. For those who don’t want this information in our educational curriculum or discussed anywhere in our schools, they are telling us how they feel about lynching and racial terrorism. They’re telling us how they feel about hearing marginalized voices, and how I say, we must actively resist the silence and attempts to silence the truth.”
Preceding their moment of reflection, the students partook in reciting Mourner’s Kaddish, a Hebrew prayer of Judaism.
“Although it’s a prayer that we say when we are commemorating a death, it actually doesn’t speak about a death at all. It actually reaffirms our belief in God,” commented Pasternak.
Before the students concluded their trip, they collectively placed a flower and stone at the marker, the latter being a Jewish gravesite custom of commemoration.
“All in all, this trip was really surprising, and I think it affected everyone more than we all expected,” said Gore.
Josie Shaw is the managing editor of production The Alabamian. She is majoring in mass communication. She enjoys activism and music, and hopes to build a blend of both throughout career.