Lynching marker to confront Charlottesville's Stonewall Jackson monument
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Petition to urge Charlottesville City Council to appropriate funds for a marker to remember the July 12, 1898 lynching of John Henry James, an African American man from Charlottesville, Virginia.
The City of Charlottesville is engaged in a process of "changing the narrative on race" in our community. Lynchings terrorized African Americans across the South, including Charlottesville. We must acknowledge this history, and remember a victim from our community. Confronting painful events which have shaped us will help us to learn from this past, and to understand how this history continues to impact our present.
One of the Blue Ribbon Commission on Race, Memorials, and Public Spaces’ (BRC) less-noted final recommendations to the Charlottesville City Council for “changing the narrative on race” was to install a marker to remember the July 12, 1898 lynching of John Henry James, an African American man from Charlottesville.
This BRC recommendation proposed the following:
A cast metal marker manufactured by the Equal Justice Initiative (eji.org). EJI is a national organization which endeavors to recognize the 4,000-plus lynchings which occurred in the U.S. in the 19th and 20th centuries. EJI provides the marker, and funds for winners of a high school historical essay contest. The city would bear the minimal cost of installing it.
· The installation of the lynching marker should be publicized and accompanying activities sponsored in order to fulfill the City Council’s charge to “change the narrative on race” in Charlottesville.
· The marker should be visibly positioned as a first step in countering the celebration of white supremacy which dominates our public spaces.
· The placement of the marker should be included in instructions to bidders in the City Council’s Request for Proposals for landscape re-design projects.
Accused of raping a white woman, John Henry James was seized by a mob of 150 people from a C&O train transporting him to the Charlottesville jail. He was then hung from a tree at Wood’s Crossing near Ivy Depot and shot 40 times. Lynchings are one of the most extreme examples of the failure of the criminal justice system to afford black/brown people due process and equal justice under law.
Additionally, Mr. James’ body was mauled. “Hundreds of people visited the scene…and many of them gathered relics of the occasion,” namely, the pieces of James’ clothing and body parts which were reportedly cut away and taken by onlookers as souvenirs. According to a front-page article of the Daily Progress, “the people of Charlottesville heartily approve[d] the lynching.” But the Richmond Planet (an African American newspaper) lamented that “the lynching of John Henry James will be far more damaging to the community.” Indeed, such violent acts of Jim Crow oppression achieved their intended effect of terrorizing black residents: until 1890, African Americans had comprised an outright majority of the population of Albemarle County, but as black refugees fled north during the Great Migration, the community shrunk to the 9% minority (in the county) and 19% minority (of the city) that it is today.
At present, the Stonewall Jackson monument is not going to be removed, remaining at Court Square, provided (as both the BRC and the City Council unanimously decreed) that its “history as [a] symbol of white supremacy is revealed and…park transformed in ways that promote freedom and equity in our community.” The Jackson monument should not be allowed to enjoy flattering, unobstructed sight lines. Therefore, we propose that the lynching marker be placed in the park facing the Stonewall Jackson monument, near the Courthouse lawn. The 1898 lynching of John Henry James occurred within the jurisdiction of the Court of Albemarle, against the rule of law guaranteed by the United States Constitution which Jackson fought to overthrow. Placing the lynching marker there would be a fitting counterpoint to the Jackson monument, would “contextualize [it] in place,” and thus “change the narrative on race,” as recommended by the Blue Ribbon Commission.
We, the undersigned organizations and individuals, urge City Council to acquire the EJI lynching marker and to begin the process of installing it in Court Square, facing the Jackson Monument, with all due speed.
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