4,000 black people were lynched in the U.S. We must remember them, and move forward

The need to confront the structures of prejudice and bigotry that pervade the American story is intensifying, and a community-based response will help move us toward a more just society.

In an effort to recognize victims and survivors of racial-terror lynching, local organizations and individuals have united as the Orange County Community Remembrance Coalition, in coordination with the Equal Justice Initiative.

The justice initiative has documented more than 4,000 lynchings in the United States between 1877 and 1950. These lynchings were public acts of torture conducted to traumatize black and African-American people and to create an atmosphere that maintained racial segregation and subordination.

The Community Remembrance Project seeks to begin necessary conversations in communities to confront the injustice and inequality that these acts of violence created. As James E. Williams Jr., vice-president of the Chapel Hill-Carrboro NAACP, remarks, “We need to overcome the history that has undermined the ability to build a community where full justice can be achieved.”

The remembrance project began forming in last summer. The core group is composed of the Chapel Hill-Carrboro Branch of the NAACP; Free Spirit FREEDOM, a project under the Hillsborough Arts Council; the Hate-Free Schools Coalition, the Orange County Human Relations Commission, and United Church of Chapel Hill.

The first event will be an inaugural reception from 6 to 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, Jan. 8, at the United Church of Chapel Hill, 1321 Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd. Anyone interested in participating in or learning more about the work is invited to attend.

On Feb. 2, the remembrance project, in co-sponsorship with the Jerry M. Passmore Center, will host a Symposium on the Legacy of Lynching, at the Passmore Center, 103 Meadowlands Drive in Hillsborough.

In April 2018, the justice initiative opened its national memorial structure dedicated to the victims of racial-terror lynching at the center of the National Memorial for Peace and Justice in Montgomery, Alabama. The structure has over 800 steel monuments, one for each county in the United States where a lynching took place between 1877 and 1950. The name on the Orange County monument is Manly McCauley.

The Community Remembrance Project has several components: collecting soils where lynchings occurred, facilitating an essay contest with high school students, erecting a historical marker acknowledging lynching incidents, and creating a local memorial to remember victims and survivors.

The Orange County coalition will seek to fulfill each component through a series of activities and events. Additional organizations and individuals —the Center for the Study of the American South, the Sonja Haynes Stone Center for Black Culture and History, and EmPOWERment Inc. — have expressed interest in supporting activities planned for the next year. Others are welcome.

For more information, please contact Renée A. Price at 919-619-1139 or reneeprice2012@gmail.com, or James E. Williams, Jr. at 919-819-0364 or attwill9@gmail.com.

Renée A. Price is the vice chair of the Orange County Board of Commissioners and co-founder of Free Spirit FREEDOM, a project of the Hillsborough Arts Council.