Group seeks to memorialize 21 lynchings in Shelby County

A church-based Memphis group is working to locate and memorialize the site of every post-Civil War lynching in Shelby County, reports the Commercial Appeal.

The group, which is calling itself “Responding to Racism,” is led by three retirees, all white and all members of First Congregational Church. Rev. Randall Mullins, a retired United Church of Christ minister, sent an email to more than a dozen local clergy on Friday asking them to join the effort and recruit others.

“Holocaust survivor and author Elie Wiesel wrote, ‘Without memory there is no culture. Without memory there would be no civilization, no society, no future,'” Mullins said in his email.
“May we be bold and faithful to all the memory that keeps us human.”

The group includes retired professor Tom Carlson and retired oceanographer George Grider. Along with Mullins, they were inspired by the Alabama-based Equal Justice Initiative’s effort to identify the location of every lynching in the South from 1877-1950.

…Earlier this year, EJI released the results of five years of research that found 3,959 victims of “racial terror lynchings” in 12 Southern states…. That includes 21 lynchings in Shelby County, the most in Tennessee and tied for 16th most in the South. Obion County in West Tennessee had 17. DeSoto County in Mississippi had 16.

Of the more than 200 historical markers in Shelby County, only one commemorates a lynching.

The “People’s Grocery” sign at the corner of Mississippi Boulevard and Walker commemorates the 1892 lynchings of store owners Thomas Moss, Calvin McDowell and Will Stewart.

“The lynching prompted Ida B. Wells, editor of the Memphis Free Speech, to begin an international anti-lynching campaign,” the sign notes. Those lynchings also are mentioned in a Beale Street marker honoring Wells.