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A lynching memorial and forgotten victims?

By Nisa Islam Muhammad -Staff Writer- | Last updated: Apr 19, 2018 - 12:09:25 PM

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The year is 1949 and Arthur Davis, sole parent to Dorcas, Cyrus, Annie Paul, James, and Alma after his wife died three years earlier leaves home to go for a walk. That was the last time they saw him alive in Abbeville, Ala.

“When I got home from work that day, my Uncle Neal told me my daddy was hung from a tree. They found him in the woods, hung by haywire around his neck. They told us he committed suicide.  That’s all they told us. So, they took him down and put the body on the back of a truck. They put him on ice and buried him three days later,” Cyrus Davis told The Final Call.

“I was young about 13 or 14. He didn’t seem upset about anything. We were doing better than ever. Nothing else was said, just that he committed suicide. There was no write up. It was one day and he was gone. My daddy was an honest, hardworking religious man. He showed no signs that anything was wrong or that he was depressed.”

That’s the story the Davis children grew up believing. They even told their children that their grandfather had committed suicide.

“My mother was very depressed about her cancer,” Reginald Crawford, grandson of Arthur Davis, son of Dorcas Davis, told The Final Call.  “I asked my Aunt Alice (sister to Arthur Davis) if I should be concerned about my mother’s depression, that she might commit suicide like her father. My aunt looked at me and said, ‘My brother did not commit suicide. His hands were tied behind his back.’ I was shocked. That meant my grandfather was lynched.”


“I immediately rushed home to ask my mother about this. She told me suicide was what they were told to say. She knew his hands were tied behind his back, but it was nothing they could do.”

Arthur Davis is just one name. More than 4,400 Black men, women, and children were hanged, burned alive, shot, drowned, and beaten to death by White mobs between 1877 and 1950 according to the Equal Justice Initiative. Millions more fled the South as refugees from racial terrorism, profoundly impacting the entire nation.

Until now, there has been no national memorial acknowledging the victims of racial terror lynchings. That changes April 26, when the National Memorial for Peace and Justice and the Legacy Museum:  From Enslavement to Mass Incarceration opens on a six-acre site in Montgomery, Ala. This national lynching memorial is a sacred space for truth-telling and reflection about racial terror in America and its legacy.

Both are the brain child of Bryan Stevenson, a widely acclaimed public interest lawyer and best-selling author of Just Mercy.  He started the institute in 1994 to defend people on death row. Somehow, he became focused on lynchings in the South.

 “We want people to see the pain. We want them to see the suffering. We want them to see the anguish,” Mr. Stevenson told CNN. “But we also want them to see the humanity, and the strength, and the dignity and the capacity to endure.”

Black people for decades had to endure the trauma of terror lynchings that the institute explains were horrific acts of violence whose perpetrators were never held accountable. Mr. Crawford’s aunt Alma was traumatized by her father’s death. “My aunt has been in a mental institution since then. She saw her father hanging from a tree and hasn’t been right since.”

News accounts have recorded public lynchings attended by entire White communities and conducted as celebratory acts of racial control and domination. Some lynchings were announced in newspapers so people could plan to be there.

The National Memorial for Peace and Justice calls the roll of people lynched. General Lee, lynched in 1904, for knocking on a White woman’s door in Reevesville, S.C. Jeff Brown, lynched in 1916, for accidentally bumping into a White girl as he was trying to catch a train in Cedarbluff, Miss. Sam Cates, lynched in 1917, for “annoying White girls” in England, Ark. Jesse Thornton, lynched in 1940, for failing to address a police officer as “mister,” in Luverne, Ala. Irving and Herman Arthur, burned to death on July 6, 1920, before a mob of 3,000 at a fairground in Paris, Texas. Elizabeth Lawrence, a teacher lynched in 1933 in Birmingham because she told a group of White kids not to throw stones at people.

Will the memorial have the name Arthur Davis?

“No, it won’t. To qualify for the memorial there had to be at least two newspaper articles about the lynching to verify that it happened. We have nothing about my grandfather,” said Mr. Crawford. “But I’m still looking. I haven’t given up hope. Somebody alive then knows something. This actually happened. I want my grandfather’s name on the memorial.”

On April 11, Mr. Crawford had a letter published in the Dothan (Ala.) Eagle newspaper. “I’ve been haunted by the unanswered true story of the lynching of my grandfather, Mr. Arthur Davis, in Abbeville, Alabama, in 1949. His children were left orphans by his death …. but because of their ages and the need to get them out of Abbeville, their stories remain vague.

“If there is anyone old enough to remember the facts of my grandfather’s murder, please contact me at (334) 467-4704.”