Woman finds closure in seeing grandfather's name at lynching memorial

Woman finds closure in seeing grandfather's name at lynching memorial
Updated: Apr. 27, 2018 at 6:50 PM CDT
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MONTGOMERY, AL (WSFA) - The two-day peace summit has wrapped up at the Montgomery Performing Arts Center.

People from all over the world of all races visited the National Memorial for Peace and Justice Memorial and the Legacy Museum. The summit was held in conjunction with the openings of the memorial and museum, tributes to black Americans who were lynched many years ago.

"It's an amazing time," said Shirley Johnson of Barbour County, as she told her story. "My grandfather tried to get away and got on a train, but they caught up with him."

Johnson says her grandfather Willie Lee Jenkins was lynched 96 years ago.

"They took him off the train, took him the woods and killed him," Johnson said.

The way Johnson tells it, her grandfather had a dispute with his boss' wife. Jenkins was found dead in the bottom of a well in Barbour County. The year was 1922. Willie Lee Jenkins' name is on one of columns in the peace memorial near downtown Montgomery.

Hearing about her grandfather's death was one thing, says Johnson, seeing his name inscribed for all eternity at the memorial is quite another.

"It was sad and a happy time to know that somebody thought enough to want to do something about it," Johnson said.

These are the kinds of stories that enlightened Laura Shoemaker and her husband Todd of Jupiter, Florida.

'"It's really overwhelming. You could see the numbers and now you're able to see the names and the faces of the victims," Shoemaker said.

It is a part of American history organizers of the peace summit and the memorial say we must face in order to heal. For Shirley Johnson, there is now closure and healing 96 years later.

"I'll never forget this feeling," she said.

Shirley Johnson never knew her grandfather. Johnson's mom was only a few months old when her dad was murdered. It's not clear whether Jenkins' killer was ever brought to justice.

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