Lynching victims honored with historical marker in Lowndes County

Lynching victims honored with historical marker in Lowndes County
(Source: WSFA 12 News)
(Source: WSFA 12 News)
(Source: WSFA 12 News)
(Source: WSFA 12 News)

LETOHATCHEE, AL (WSFA) - At Rehobeth Missionary Church, in Letohatchee, lessons center on love and forgiveness, but Melvin Colvin has a hard time with both when he recalls a memory that still haunts him.

Colvin was only 11 years old when he witnessed his uncle, aunt, their son and daughter beaten nearly to death by a mob of white men.

"I can't forget it. I can't forget it," said Colvin. "These folks broke into the house and beat them senseless."

Despite the senseless attack, the family "lived" and later moved away, never to return to Lowdnes County.

Beatings and lynchings of black families were common throughout the south during the Jim Crow era, a time where separate but equal laws were enforced for blacks and whites.

"They depended on black people, but they didn't treat us like humans," Colvin said.

While crimes against blacks were often reported in local newspapers, they were rarely investigated. Dr. Derryn Moten is a history and political science professor at Alabama State University. He says there was no reason for the perpetrators of these crimes to go unpunished.

"We know that many of these individuals didn't die at the hands of parties unknown because we have photographs and postcards that were made from these lynchings," said Moten.

In a report released by the Equal Justice Initiative, between 1877 and 1950, there were more than 4,000 lynchings in 12 southern states. More than 300 happened in Alabama. Fourteen were recorded in Lowdnes County, seven of them in Letohatchee.

The lynchings happened in the general area of where Melvin Colvin witnessed his relatives beaten some five decades later. There was no investigation or arrest in either case.

The last recorded lynching in the United States happened in Mobile, Alabama. In 1981, Michael Donald, 19, was beaten and killed. His body was hanged from a tree.

Three members of the Klu Klux Klan were arrested and convicted for the 19-year-old's murder. Still, there are thousands more waiting for justice.

"These people were killed, and other than their loved ones and the people who witnessed or participated, no one knows these individuals," said Moten.

The Equal Justice Initiative is changing that, one project at a time. It is joining with communities all over the country to erect historical markers, like one at Rehobeth Missionary Church which marks the vicinity of where Colvin watched his relatives burned out of their home.

EJI is also working on chronicling history in a lynching museum in Montgomery, which will be the first of its kind in the country. The names of more than 4,000 lynching victims will be engraved on concrete columns that represent every county in the US where lynchings took place. For more information about the museum, follow this link. 

"I think it's important that don't let the story die. But somebody needs to know. When I go off the scene, the next generation, they will know. It won't be like us didn't know. You have to go dig up the story. It will be out there on that sign," said Pastor Julius Buskey of Rehobeth Missionary Church.

This is a sign that the hurtful memories that Colvin can't forget won't get lost in history. Instead the site at Rehobeth Missionary Church, where so much pain was felt, will become a place for healing.

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