Lynching memorial helps family reconcile with past
MONTGOMERY, AL (WSFA) - Lynching victims remembered at the National Museum for Peace and Justice died from unspeakable pain, and the trajectory of their deaths are still having a lasting impact on future generations.
The Equal Justice Initiative's report on lynching explains the terror that led many families of lynching victims to flee the south. The Dedmans of Compton, California are no exception.
"We avoided the south altogether," stated Phoebe Dedman.
The Dedmans started retracing their grandfather and great grandfather, Thomas Miles, Sr., who was lynched in Shreveport, Louisiana. Before then, the family never spoke of this tragedy.
"They didn't want to bring that terror up, or relive it," explained Luz Myles, who was the granddaughter of Thomas Miles.
The family changed the spelling of the last name from Miles to Myles to further escape the terror.
"It changed who he was," explained Phoebe Dedman, speaking of her father, the son of Thomas Miles. "He changed his last name because there was so much shame. Eventually he left the family, because he was impacted by the fact that his father was murdered."
The Dedmans worked with EJI to retrace their family's history, seeing the newspaper clippings documenting Miles' trial and lynching. The news of Thomas Miles, Sr.'s death was prolific, as were all lynchings to further the fear in the black community.
"They went far beyond the person, the family and that community," Phoebe Dedman said of the lynchings. "It was widespread to tell black people everywhere beware, don't step out of line."
Thomas Miles, Sr. was accused of passing a letter to a white woman, which led to a trial, and his death.
"He was found not guilty," explained Phoebe Dedman. "A white man gave him the letter to give to a white woman, a judge determined it wasn't his handwriting. As it is told, he was let out of the back door of the jail where there was a mob waiting for him, they strung him up and shot his body."
The Dedmans visited the site where their loved one was killed, collecting soil for EJI's Legacy Museum. They said this has been a difficult but necessary journey, culminating in seeing their loved one in the National Memorial for Peace and Justice.
"Bringing up the lynchings takes the stigma out of it," explained Shirah Dedman.
"It's a duel reconciliation," added Phoebe Dedman. "A reconciliation for black families and the black community and reaching out between black and white communities. It goes much further than that."
You can view EJI's story "Uprooted," featuring the Dedmans retracing their family's history here.
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