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Lamar lynchings included at memorial

By Gayle White It was Christmas Day, 1889. The weather was ‘unseasonably warm,’ so Pink Lawrence was probably without an overcoat as he walked down the railroad tracks in Barnesville toward an early evening Christmas gathering. Pink, who was a black man in his twenties, knew the tracks well. He was a railroad worker with a reputation for reliability. He may have been walking with an extra pep in his step that Christmas Day because beside him was his bride of just one day, Renie Reeves. Her brother, Tom, was also part of the party. Tom Reeves would later describe what happened: They had nearly reached the church that was their destination when they heard cursing and crude laughter. The sounds took the form of four young white men, staggering drunk. Some of them had pistols. t from Barnesville, had interrupted Christmas services at a black church and been confronted by a local marshal, it would later be learned. The marshal had let them go without arrest, possibly because it was Christmas, and they were continuing their binge, sharing a bottle of a reddish-colored liquor that seemed to embolden them. The two groups’”those headed for the Christmas festival at church and the drunken men’”were on trajectories toward an inevitable encounter. As the parties approached each other, one of the white men said something that Pink Lawrence considered offensive to Renie, according to her brother. Pink asked them to be more respectful. ‘_____ you and your wife, too,’ one said. The next few seconds were a blur, but two loud cracks pierced the air and Pink was lying on the railroad track dying. He cried out ‘Renie’ with his last breath. The four men ran away. The headline in the next day’s Macon newspaper was ‘Married and Murdered.’ Pink Lawrence’s name is one of three listed on the Lamar County monument at the National Memorial for Peace and Justice. Known colloquially as the Lynching Memorial, it opened to the public on April 26, 2018, in Montgomery, AL. Its website describes it as ‘the nation’s first memorial dedicated to the legacy of enslaved black people, people terrorized by lynching, African Americans humiliated by racial segregation and Jim Crow, and people of color burdened with contemporary presumptions of guilt and police violence.’ A second Lamar County case was Will Atwater, a Milner man killed in 1910 by a band of ‘night riders’ who were terrorizing African-Americans to such an extent that federal law enforcement officials became involved. A third was John, or Ed, Calhoun, a black man who was shot, and his body paraded through town, after he was accused of murdering a white farmer in 1918. All three events, though recognized as Lamar County cases, took place before 1920, when Lamar was carved out of Monroe and Pike. In the Pink Lawrence case, a posse captured the drunk white men. One, believed to be the shooter, was charged with first-degree murder, and two others with second-degree murder. They were jailed without bond. The fourth was released but faced charges for disturbances earlier in the day, including disrupting worship at the black church. Their trial, delayed by the illness of the judge, took place five months later. For three days witnesses testified and lawyers orated while spectators absorbed every minute. Renie’s brother, Tom, and a man named Jim McCullough, said two men held Pink while another shot him. They said Pink was unarmed, and that the shooting was unprovoked. One by one the defendants took the stand and claimed self defense. They said Pink had a knife and that he cut one of them during the fray. Their friends served as character witnesses. Twenty minutes after being sent to deliberate, the jury was back. The verdict: not guilty. The defendants were free to go. The Lawrence case and the two others from Lamar County are just three of more than 4,000 memorialized at the National Memorial for Peace and Justice. Work on the memorial began in 2010 when staff of the Equal Justice Institute began investigating thousands of racial terror lynchings. EJI, is a not-for-profit entity that provides legal representation to people who have been illegally convicted, unfairly sentenced, or abused in state jails and prisons. It was established by Bryan Stevenson, a public interest lawyer and author of Just Mercy, Research by EJI ultimately produced Lynching in America: Confronting the Legacy of Racial Terror in 2015 which documented thousands of racial terror lynchings in twelve states. EJI has supplemented its original research by documenting racial terror lynchings in states outside the Deep South. EJI staff visited hundreds of lynching sites, collected soil, and erected public markers. Set on a six-acre site, the National Memorial to Peace and Justice uses sculpture, art, and design to ‘contextualize racial terror,’ according to the EJI. The site includes a memorial square with 800 six-foot monuments, one for each county in the United States where a racial terror lynching took place, including Lamar. EJI is inviting counties across the country to claim duplicate monuments and install them in the counties they represent. Lamar County has an opportunity to claim and display its duplicate as a way of acknowledging long-ignored racial injustices. The National Memorial for Peace and Justice is a powerfully moving, almost overwhelming, reminder of one ugly facet of our history. By acknowledging that history, we may become more determined never to see it repeated. For information on how to visit the memorial: Editor’s Note: Gayle White is a native of Barnesville daughter of the late Albert and Ethel Colquitt and is retired from a long career as a religion writer for the Atlanta Journal Constitution. She visited the the National Memorial for Peace and Justice with friends in late October and researched the cases behind the Lamar County names in newspapers from the times. The details of the Lamar County cases in this account are from the Macon Telegraph and the Atlanta Constitution.

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