Monument Or Marker? How To Remember Those Lynched In North Carolina

Jul 18, 2018

This photo shows part of the display at the National Memorial for Peace and Justice, a new memorial to honor thousands of people killed in racist lynchings, Monday, April 23, 2018, in Montgomery, Ala. The national memorial aims to teach about America's past in hope of promoting understanding and healing.
Credit Brynn Anderson / AP

It’s hard to count the exact number of African Americans who were lynched by white mobs during the years following slavery. Numbers show most of these brutal, deadly acts occurred in the South, between the 1870s and the 1950s.

Today, there are efforts across North Carolina to publicly mark where lynchings took place. There is no documentation showing a lynching in all 100 counties, but the reach of lynching across the state was widespread, according to Seth Kotch, assistant professor of digital humanities at UNC - Chapel Hill.

“On this map, if we grey out the map part, we can actually see the state of NC," said Kotch. "It is immediately recognizable.”

When I've spoken to students in high school, even to my students at Carolina, many of them don't know what a lynching is or was. - Seth Kotch

Kotch points to more than 180 dots on a map on his computer during a visit this spring. Each dot represents a documented lynching in the state.

“If we take a look at the map, we could see these took place all the way from Cherokee, here in the west, up to Bertie County in the northeast, down to places outside Wilmington, right here in the Piedmont," said Kotch.

In 2015, Kotch developed a web project called A Red Record, which reveals lynching sites in North and South Carolina. He said the project will hopefully start serious conversations about race.

“When I’ve spoken to students in high school, even to my students at Carolina, many of them don’t know what a lynching is or was," said Kotch.

Kotch is trying to change that. He and several of his students continue to contribute to the ongoing project. In almost all of the deadly lynching cases, African Americans and some Native Americans were victims of beatings, burnings and hangings by white mobs.

Here in this place an innocent man died a terrible death. Here in this place a neighborly people became a blood-thirsty mob. -Rev. Stuart Taylor

The name of this UNC project, A Red Record, honors the work of celebrated African-American journalist Ida B. Wells. Born into slavery, Wells’ investigative reporting across the South showed the terror of lynching blacks was "an excuse to get rid of Negroes who were acquiring wealth and property,” she wrote in a journal, according to the New York Times.

One documented lynching that received much press was the hanging death of Wyatt Outlaw in the town square in Graham, North Carolina.

Outlaw was murdered in February 1870. The former slave owned a woodworking shop and was Graham’s first African-American councilman and constable. In February of last year, the Rev. Stuart Taylor and representatives from several North Carolina Presbyterian churches sang and prayed outside the Graham courthouse.

“Here in this place an innocent man died a terrible death. Here in this place a neighborly people became a blood-thirsty mob. Here in this place your dream of brotherhood was violated," said Taylor. "Your law of love was transgressed. And here in this place today, we remember Wyatt Outlaw.”

Taylor says the consortium of churches want a marker placed in the town square to remember Outlaw and how he was killed.

This statue stands in downtown Warrenton. It was erected in 1913 by the Warren Chapter of the United Daughters of the Confederacy and Sons of Warren.
Credit Leoneda Inge / WUNC

It’s an idea that is connected to the Equal Justice Initiative, founded by Bryan Stevenson. Earlier this year, Stevenson opened the National Memorial for Peace and Justice in Montgomery, Alabama. It’s dedicated to the victims of American white supremacy, which includes more than 4,000 blacks who were lynched.

At the memorial, there are markers representing every county where a lynching took place. While he hasn't visited the memorial yet, Warren County NAACP President Cosmos George is impressed by those markers.

“And Warren County was one of those counties included in the monument and we do have a slab there,” said George.

George is working with other Warren County groups to request a duplicate of their slab, which bears the names of Alfred Williams and Plummer Bullock, both lynched in Warren County in January 1921.

George says the local NAACP will ask the county for permission to place the slab at the courthouse square, not far from where a massive Confederate statue stands. He says the lynching marker is not as large.

“I don’t think that it would be equal (in size) but it would be at least a start to having an honest conversation about our history, about slavery, about lynching.”

To date, there are no official markers or memorials to lynching in North Carolina.