60 Minutes: Oprah goes inside Memorial to Victims of Lynching

There is a reckoning taking place in America over how we remember our history. Much of the focus has been on whether or not to take down monuments that celebrate the Confederacy. But this story is about a new monument going up in Montgomery, Alabama. It documents the lynchings of thousands of African-American men, women and children during a seventy year period following the Civil War.

The project is being led by criminal defense attorney Bryan Stevenson, who is determined to shed light on a dark period in our past that most people would rather forget. It’s a shocking and disturbing reality that lynchings were not isolated murders committed only by men in white hoods in the middle of the night. Often, they were public crimes, witnessed – even celebrated – by thousands of people. Stevenson believes if we want to heal racial divisions we must educate Americans – of every color and creed.

These cotton fields in southern Alabama are quiet now, but in 1937 a brutal murder took place here: the lynching of Wes Johnson.

Last January some of Johnson’s descendants came here in what has become a ritual taking place at lynching sites across the country, organized by civil rights attorney Bryan Stevenson.

Bryan Stevenson: Something happened here that was wrong. Something happened here that was unjust. And too few people have talked about it. And so we want to acknowledge the wrong that happened to Wes Johnson.

This is 18-year-old Wes Johnson. It is the only known image of him that remains. He was a tenant farmer accused of assaulting a white woman. Before he could stand trial, a mob of one hundred men dragged him from jail, shot him and left him hanging from a tree.

Bryan Stevenson: The blood of Wes Johnson is in this soil. I’d like you to begin to dig this soil in remembrance of Wes Johnson.

The soil collection is part of Bryan Stevenson’s project to document and remember African-Americans lynched during a period of what he calls “racial terror.”

Bryan Stevenson: We want to call this community to repentance, to acknowledgement, to shame. We want to tell the truth, because we believe in truth and reconciliation but we know that truth and reconciliation are sequential. We can’t get to where we’re trying to go if we don’t tell the truth first.

So far, Stevenson’s team has chronicled more than 4,300 lynchings. They continue to find more.

Many victims, like Bennie Simmons and John Richards were accused of murder. One in four lynching victims, like Joseph Richardson and Frank Embree — were accused of unlawful conduct with white women.

In nearly every case, no evidence, just an accusation, was enough.

Oprah Winfrey: There are so many crimes committed against African Americans. Why focus on lynching?

Bryan Stevenson: At the end of the Civil War black people are supposed to get the right to vote. And the only way people who were white could maintain their political control was to intimidate black people. And lynching was especially effective because it would allow the whole community to know that we did this to this person. It was intended to send a message that if you try to vote, if you try to advocate for your rights, if you insist on fair wages, if you do anything that complicates white supremacy and white dominance and political power, we will kill you.

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A Native Texan who adores baby kittens, loves horses, rodeos, pomegranates, & collect Eagles. Enjoys politics, games shows, & dancing to all types of music. Loves discussing and learning about different cultures. A Phi Theta Kappa lifetime member with a passion for Social & Civil Justice.
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49 Responses to 60 Minutes: Oprah goes inside Memorial to Victims of Lynching

    • yahtzeebutterfly says:

      Excerpt from the above article:

      The Advertiser’s approach foreshadowed its later failures in covering the civil rights movement — in particular, a cynicism that blinded the paper to the moral urgency of the struggle and a prickliness over any assertion the racial atmosphere in Alabama was less than harmonious.

      During the Selma-to-Montgomery march in 1965, the newspaper would imply the Rev. James Reeb — killed in Selma on March 11, 1965 — was responsible for his own death, and harp on crime reports from northern cities as civil rights marchers made their way to the state Capitol.

      The idea that black citizens would attack injustice through their actions — and not wait for a white patron’s mumbled words of discomfort to stop it — unnerved the editorial writers. On the morning of March 25, 1965, as the march reached its climax, the Advertiser published an editorial titled “Silence” that told readers to “stay away.”

      “Not even the incompetents of northern newspapers and the tube can indefinitely prevent the folly of this bizarre procession from being understood by the American people, not keep from oozing out the character of the demonstrators and their coarse conduct,” the editorial page thundered. “America may well be destined to come to consider this a costly indulgence in wild self-righteousness.”



      The piece encapsulated the Advertiser’s attitude toward lynching in the late 19th and early 20th century: Opposition to lynching in the abstract; indifference to the violence within our gates. A review of the newspaper from 1883 to 1904, as well as some issues after that time, shows the Advertiser treating lynching with a detachment buoyed by racial stereotypes.

      The newspaper nominally opposed the racially motivated murders of hundreds of black Alabamians during that time, with an editorial on May 1, 1883, calling lynchings “a cause of shame” and “a disgrace … upon our people and our state.”

      “To take the life of a human being, in any manner, other than by due process of law is violation of the commandment, which says ‘thou shalt not kill,’ the newspaper wrote on July 7, 1897. “And it is therefore murder, and the man or men who participate in it, no matter what excuse they may plea, will find their portion in the world to come, without the kingdom of grace and glory, along with “ ‘the dogs, sorcerers and whoremongers.’ ”

      But the invocations of Gehenna were undercut by the Advertiser’s unfailing assumption that lynching victims were guilty of a crime, whatever the facts may have been. Those assumptions were often grounded in racist views of African-Americans. In its 1883 editorial calling lynchings a disgrace, the Advertiserlisted six recent victims — then, in effect, said they deserved it.

  1. Jars of soil collected from lynching sites and the name of the victim.

  2. Lynching of Raymond Gunn……….

    Raymond Gunn was an African American man killed by a mob in Maryville, Missouri, United States, after he confessed to killing and attempting to rape a white school teacher.

    The case received massive national publicity because it occurred outside the Southern “lynch belt”, because of its brazen and planned nature, and because the county sheriff did not activate National Guard troops that had been specifically deployed to prevent the lynching.

    The case was frequently invoked in the unsuccessful attempt to pass the Wagner-Costigan Act during the presidency of Franklin Roosevelt, which would have made it a federal crime for law enforcement officials to refuse to try to prevent a lynching.

  3. Monroe GA lynchings

  4. Lynching of A.B. Young

  5. Lynching In America: Whitney Foehl Photos and notes taken from: Allen, James. Without Sanctuary: Lynching…Corpse of Leonard Woods on speaking platform, white mob. November 29, 1927 Pound Gap, Kentucky

  6. Liza says:

    James Allen’s “Without Sanctuary” collection of photographs of lynchings used to be online in its entirety, but the website no longer exists. Allen collected those postcards they made of the lynchings, there are 145 photographs in his collection. The title of his book is “Without Sanctuary: Lynching Photography in America”.

    All of these photographs are horrific, but look at the picture at 2:26. They photographed the victim while he was alive, on his way to be murdered. He is photographed alive front and back, and the third picture is after the murder. If I remember correctly, the postcard was folded and contained all three pictures.

  7. Lynching of Rubin Stacy in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, July 19, 1935, United States, New York, Schomburg Center. (Photo by Photo12/UIG/Getty Images)

    Reuben Stacy, a 37-year-old black man, hangs from a tree on Old Davie Road in Fort Lauderdale, blood trickling down his body and dripping off his toes. Behind him, a white girl, about 7 years old, looks on, a strange smile on her face as she takes in the sight of the “strange fruit” her elders had just created that hot day in July 1935.

    Stacy was accused of attempting to assault a white woman in her home after first asking for a glass of water. According to a 1993 telling of the story, he was arrested three days later 25 miles from the scene. But no trial was ever conducted, and mere hours after his arrest, Stacy was hanged and shot.

  8. Midwest lynchings aren’t included in new report, but a 94-year-old woman remembers one in St. Joseph


    Korea Strowder pushed her wide eyes against the window glass in the crowded bus, but she never exactly saw the mob hang Lloyd Warner on the courthouse lawn.

    Still, she can describe in fine detail the rest of the spectacle that day 82 years ago in St. Joseph. First off, she was 13 and terrified, the only African-American on a bus that got caught in lynching traffic. Cars and buggies filled the streets. Horns honked.

    The crowd swelled into the thousands to see Warner, a 19-year-old African-American accused of assaulting a white girl, swing from a tree and his body set afire.

    “Parents brought their children like they were coming to a picnic,” said Strowder, now 94 and living in Washington, D.C. “It was a big to-do, all right.”

    The lynching at the Buchanan County Courthouse made headlines as far away as the Courier Mail Journal in Brisbane, Australia. But it’s not included in a new report that documents the lynchings of 3,959 African-Americans in the United States from 1877 to 1950.

    That’s because the Equal Justice Initiative, a nonprofit group based in Montgomery, Ala., looked only at the 12 Southern states with the highest numbers of documented lynchings. Even with the limited scope, the research found 700 previously uncounted lynchings.

    Still, Angela Sims, an associate professor of ethics and black church studies at St. Paul School of Theology in Leawood, found the omission of other states misleading.

    “It perpetuates the myth that lynching was a Southern phenomenon, and it was in fact a U.S. phenomenon,” said Sims, whose own “Remembering Lynching” project is housed at Baylor University’s Institute for Oral History.

    “Lynchings occurred everywhere, certainly Missouri,” Sims said. “Historical amnesia does not serve us.”

    Aaryn Urell, a staff attorney for the Equal Justice Initiative who worked on the project, has heard from others with the same concern since the release of “Lynching in America: Confronting the Legacy of Racial Terror.”

  9. JUNE 21st, 1940
    Jesse Thornton: Black Man Lynched in Alabama for Failing to Address White Man as “Mr.”

    On June 21, 1940, a twenty-six-year-old black man named Jesse Thornton addressed a passing police officer by his name, Doris Rhodes. When the officer, a white man, overheard Mr. Thornton and ordered him to clarify his statement, he attempted to correct himself by referring to the officer as “Mr. Doris Rhodes.” The officer hurled a racial slur at Mr. Thornton while knocking him to the ground and arresting him. Mr. Rhodes then walked Mr. Thornton into the city jail as a mob of white men formed just outside.

    Mr. Thornton tried to escape and managed to flee a short distance while the mob quickly pursued, firing gunshots and throwing bricks, bats, and stones at him. Mr. Thornton was injured by gunfire and eventually collapsed. The mob dumped him into a truck and drove to an isolated street where he was dragged into a nearby swamp and shot again. Mr. Thornton’s decomposing, vulture-ravaged body was found a week later by a local fisherman in the Patsaliga River, near Tuskegee Institute.

    Dr. Charles A.J. McPherson, a local leader in the Birmingham branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), wrote a detailed report on Mr. Thornton’s lynching. Future United States Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall, then an attorney with the NAACP, provided the Department of Justice with the report and requested a federal investigation. The Justice Department instructed the Federal Bureau of Investigation to determine whether law enforcement or other officials were complicit in the lynching but there is no record that anyone was ever prosecuted for Mr. Thornton’s murder.

  10. Lynching of Charlie Hale,
    on April 7, 1911.


    An African-American man, on the courthouse square at the corner of Perry and Pike Streets, Lawrenceville, Georgia,
    Charles Hale was lynched, after only being accused of Assault on white woman.

    Note the sign hanging from his toes: Please do not wake him. At far left is Jack Mathis, and the boy is Herbert Strayhorn.

  11. Ametia says:

    Thank you for capturing and posting this thread, SG2. I spent the weekend resting as much as I could. I look forward to reading and watching the videos.

    The truth cannot be burned or burried, and it will NEVER BE DESTROYED.

  12. Liza says:

    I hope I’m able to get out to Montgomery AL someday to see this memorial and the museum.

    I can’t remember when I became aware of lynchings that occurred during that time. But I do remember when I read about how these lynchings were carried out. It was a book by Orlando Patterson, Rituals of Blood – Consequences of Slavery in Two American Centuries.

    I do believe that everything is connected.

  13. rikyrah says:

    Bryan Stevenson: “…we believe in truth and reconciliation but we know that truth and reconciliation are sequential. We can’t get to where we’re trying to go if we don’t tell the truth first.” Full story: https://t.co/BTJj9YhTtj https://t.co/aUVu0y1hbA

    — Steven Hale (@iamstevenhale) April 8, 2018

  14. Waco photographer Fred Gildersleeve documented the Jesse Washington event, taking photos that he planned to sell as postcards. The rare photos of a lynching in progress caused an international outcry, with widespread condemnation of the “Waco Horror.” The newly formed NAACP used it as a cause celebre for a nationwide antilynching campaign. Link:


  15. Liza says:


    “We want to tell the truth, because we believe in truth and reconciliation but we know that truth and reconciliation are sequential. We can’t get to where we’re trying to go if we don’t tell the truth first.”

  16. #Lynching: WACO TEXAS-After Jesse Washington received a death sentence, “a mob dragged him to City Hall, where they doused him with coal oil and hanged him over a pile of burning wooden crates. They carved his charred body into souvenirs and dragged it around town”

  17. #Lynching “It was intended to send a message that if you try to vote, if you try to advocate for your rights, if you insist on fair wages, if you do anything that complicates white supremacy and white dominance and political power, we will kill you”.

  18. Waco Texas- People at Jesse Washington’s lynching sold pieces of charred bone & bits of the hanging tree as souvenirs…………..

  19. The Hanging Tree- Columbus Texas………….2 black teen boys hanged. They were accused of raping a white girl. 700 people attended. Tree is still there.


  21. yahtzeebutterfly says:

    Evil, domestic terrorism committed by white supremacists!!!

    And the country let the murderers go free over and over and over and over and over again!!!

    Thank you for posting this, SG2. It is so important that every citizen be educated about this horror.

  22. The hellish nightmare Black people suffered at the hands of white supremacy. Death wasn’t enough for them. They’d hang Black people, then shoot them, burn them, parade their bodies around the town to terrorize the Black community & take body parts for souvenirs.

    • yahtzeebutterfly says:

      So much horrific, demented killing of innocents at the hands of white supremacists who were not held accountable by a country that claims it is civilized.

      I am part of this country and want it to take part in a reckoning through confession and reparations.

      I am so sorry and heartbroken and terrified that all of this horror has taken place.

    • Liza says:

      “Death wasn’t enough”.

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