In Montgomery, Alabama, there is an elegant, solemn memorial acknowledging racial terrorism and the more than 4,400 lives it has claimed.
The National Memorial for Peace and Justice, which opened to the public on April 26, 2018, is the nation’s first memorial dedicated to the legacy of enslaved Black people, people terrorized by lynching, African Americans humiliated by racial segregation, the disenfranchisement of Jim Crow, and people of color burdened with contemporary presumptions of guilt and police violence.
Part of the Equal Justice Initiative, the memorial structure is constructed from more than 800 corten steel monuments, one for each county in the United States where a racial terror lynching took place. The names of the lynching victims are engraved on the column.
A monument replica, bearing the names of Henry Simmons and Samuel Nelson, for Palm Beach County. (Courtesy of Spady Cultural Heritage Museum)
Bringing lynching’s legacy to SoFla for all to acknowledge and discuss
Soon, monuments similar to those in Montgomery will be placed at historic sites in Palm Beach, Broward and Miami-Dade counties to designate locations where African-Americans were lynched in South Florida. The Spady Cultural Heritage Museum is proud to contribute to the collective work being done as part of the Community Remembrance Project and assist in bringing a monument replica bearing the names of Henry Simmons and Samuel Nelson to Palm Beach County.
The two Black men were killed in the 1920s at a time when whites felt free to engage in domestic terrorism and pursue vigilante justice in the names of peers thatthey believed had been injured or offended. Both men were tortured at the hands of white mobs and left with bullet holes across their bodies. Their stories have been mostly left untold.
Mr. Simmons and Mr. Nelson are among the 315 documented lynchings in Florida between 1877 and 1950 by the EJI. Thirty-three lynchings were in Orange County, the highest number in the state. The initiative found three in Miami-Dade and one in Broward.
Community organizations, governments collaborate to illustrate racial reckonings
The Palm Beach County Community Remembrance Project Coalition has undertook an initative to memorialize the county’s two lynchings through essay contests, historic markers, book readings, lectures, and additional activities. The County Commission gave its go-ahead for the project in 2019 and received an update on its progress in August 2021.
Committee members are working to show EJI that there is widespread community-wide support for the steel marker to be brought home.
“We are excited to share leadership of this important effort to bring historical accuracy and commemoration of Henry Simmons’ and Samuel Nelson’s lives to Palm Beach County,” said Project Member Charlene Farrington, director of The Spady Cultural Heritage Museum in Delray Beach. “This collective work, being done all across the country, will bring to light a dark chapter in our country’s history, and with that light, a greater understanding and appreciation of progressive race relations, so we never return to a time when lynching is orchestrated, accepted and celebrated.”
SoFla part of a national movement of truth-telling and justice
EJI’s community remembrance work is part of a larger movement to create an era of restorative truth-telling and justice that changes the consciousness of our nation. The initiative is working with communities to erect historical markers, organize soil collection ceremonies, and hold essay contests for local high school students to support the development of local, community-led efforts to engage with and discuss past and present issues of racial justice.
EJI believes that markers and monuments can help transform our national landscape into a more honest reflection of the history of America.
When a county’s memorial monument is installed, it can represent the accomplishment of the work done so far and stand as a symbolic reminder of the community’s continuing efforts to truthfully grapple with painful racial history, challenge injustice where it exists in their own lives, and vow never to repeat the terror and violence of the past.
To learn more about this important project, register for the FREE Zoom program, “Knowing Our History to Achieve A Better Future,” featuring members of the Palm Beach County Remembrance Project Coalition. It will be held from 4-5 p.m. on Wednesday, February 9, 2022.