Day of Remembrance Needed for Lynching Victims
Last March, I attended a talk by Patricia Hilliard-Nunn at the Matheson History Museum about the August 19, 1916, lynchings in an oak grove near the center of Newberry. I learned that a black man, Boisy Long, was accused of stealing hogs, and was blamed for shooting two white men in the dispute.
Long was ultimately arrested, tried and executed, but in the lawless search preceding his arrest, angry mobs of infuriated white people captured six other black people — four men and two women. The whites shot one of these men, James Dennis, and strung up the five other people by the neck in that oak grove. The Rev. Josh Baskins, Bert Dennis, Mary Dennis, Andrew McHenry and Stella Long died by hanging.
Hilliard-Nunn maintained a calm, open-hearted demeanor as she shared one devastating fact after another about this lynching in particular, and lynchings in general. She included historical data on the incidence of lynchings nationwide, and the fact that Florida had the highest per capita rate of lynchings in the country prior to 1949. She shared historical photographs of Newberry, including one of a large group of whites — men, women and children — standing over the bodies of the black victims.
What made me start to cry? Maybe it was the sheer accumulation of horror. Maybe it was the two black children sitting toward the front of the room with their father, who would live with these facts now, who might worry that this atrocity could happen again, who might worry they or their families would be victims, too.
Maybe it was the old white couple sitting next to them, who had to live with these facts now, too, who might also worry that this atrocity could happen again, who might worry they would be a part of it.
Maybe I was crying for my white ancestors, who may have cheered this 1916 lynching on, or who may have stood by, appalled.