Escambia Group Plans Next Steps Toward A Memorial To Lynching Victims
A group of Pensacola area citizens is now looking to the next phase of their effort to memorialize the lynching victims in Escambia County.
It’s part of a multi-faceted campaign by EJI and its director, attorney Bryan Stevenson to tell the true history of racial injustice in America.
“I don’t think we’ve actually done a very good job of acknowledging the pain and suffering, the complete denial of humanity that slavery created,” Stevenson said in an April 2018 report on NPR’s All Things Considered, as the National Memorial for Peace and Justice was about to open.
Along with other activities, EJI’s remembrance project requires participants to host community conversations and public programs on the issue of race and racial injustice. Pensacola’s Race and Reconciliation group has spearheaded such dialogue locally. Julie Patton, an assistant professor in the Department of Social Work at the University of West Florida, heads the group.
Communities also have to document each of the lynching victims and recognize them by collecting soil from the sites where they were killed.
The final soil collection in Escambia County took place during a ceremony on September 20 at downtown Pensacola’s Plaza Ferdinand, where two of the local lynchings occurred.
“I want us to recognize that a terrible, terrible thing happened here many years ago,” said Teniade Broughton, one of the leaders of the local effort.
She spoke before the careful transfer of soil for Leander Shaw and David Alexander to large glass jars with their names on the front. Angry mobs killed the black men in the plaza in separate incidents in 1908 and 1909.
Ironically, said Broughton, this was the same town square where Florida became a part of the United States.
“We didn’t come here to discredit this place. We did not come here to vilify this place. In fact, we came here to make it more credible through truth and reconciliation.”
Broughton and other members of the Community Remembrance Project committee are now discussing their long-term plans for memorializing the Escambia County lynching victims.
Eventually, the local jars will join the thousands of others displayed at EJI’s Legacy Museum near the new memorial in Montgomery, Alabama.
Looking back at Broughton’s first tour of the site, she described it as an awesome experience.
“It covers you; they do a really good job at connecting you to the moment emotionally,” recalled Broughton. She said walking into the museum, she was immediately aware that she was standing in the spot that was the capitol of the domestic slave trade. “You see stats about how many people were brought through. As you walk through, they have holograms that tell the stories of the some of the people that would have been held in those pens,” she said.
In remembering the experience, Broughton noted that the exhibits followed a timeline, from enslavement to emancipation and reconstruction. It includes the period when the enforcement of Jim Crow laws was prevalent in the south, and concludes the mass incarceration, we see today.
As visitors walk out of the museum, they begin to encounter the memorial, which includes six-foot tall columns with the names of the victims from each county where there was a lynching in the United States.
“Along the perimeter, it almost looks like it’s matching one (column), but they’re laying/lying to where it almost looks like coffins,” Broughton explained.
“When you go through the memorial, the ground descends, which makes the columns look almost as if they rise above you and at one point when you look ahead and it has the imagery of just bodies. And, that’s when it really hits you, like this is what lynching was like in America.”
It was during this visit to the museum and memorial that the group from Escambia got jars for their soil collection.
The locals picked up two boxes based. But, before the transaction could be completed, Broughton remembered being asked to wait while EJI staff attended to Orange County, “They pull out Orange County’s boxes in a flatbed truck, just boxes piled and piled and piled.”
An interactive map on the EJI website details the more than 4,000 reported lynchings in America between 1877 and 1950.
For perspective, Escambia has confirmed eight lynchings, currently with six listed on the county’s EJI memorial. Orange County in central Florida recorded 33 lynchings, involving mostly unnamed victims of the 1920 Ocoee massacre over black voter registration efforts.
Broughton described the moment as sobering.
“To see that many boxes and that many jars and that many labels of unknown names really shook my spirit and that’s when I had to recommit to getting this done and telling the story the right way,” she said.
Broughton is also committed to having Escambia County finish the process as soon as possible in order to be the first community to receive and erect its own EJI memorial to lynching victims.
“There’s no timeline, but they (EJI) would like to make sure each county has done the appropriate work to get the community interested, to talk to local government,” Broughton said of the work still to be done.
As it relates to local government, the group plans to seek the support of local elected officials, including Pensacola’s next mayor, Grover Robinson or Brian Spencer.
The next step is the pursuit of historical markers.
Ultimately, when the process is completed, their hope is to place the local memorial in Plaza Ferdinand at the exact spot of the early 1900’s light post, where Leander Shaw and David Alexander were killed.