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Lowndes County cenotaph recovery and lynching marker group meets

By Fred Guarino

The Lowndes Signal

Progress continues to be made to bring the Equal Justice Initiative National Memorial for Peace and Justice cenotaph honoring Lowndes County lynching victims back to the county and to erect markers honoring the county’s lynching victims where they were lynched.

Lowndes County Friends of the Civil Rights Movement recently joined forces with Josephine Bolling McCall and The Elmore Bolling Foundation to form a coalition for that purpose. And the group, led by Friends President Arthur Nelson, met to make plans and report progress Friday, April 5 at the Charles Smith Sr. Courthouse Annex in Hayneville.

The group currently plans to both bring the EJI cenotaph to Lowndes and to erect a maker honoring three Lowndes County lynching victims where they were lynched this year. It is anticipated the lynching historical marker will be unveiled at a site to be determined in September or October.

The three individuals currently to be included on the lynching historical marker near where they were lynched include Ed Bracey, who was lynched in Hope Hull near Wasden Road; Jim Press Meriweather, who was lynched near Beautiful Zion Church in Sandy Ridge; and G. Smith Watkins, who was lynched near Fort Dale Road in Fort Deposit.

Nelson reported that a marker will also be erected honoring “unknowns” who were lynched in Lowndes County, “So, that way, we would not leave anybody out.”

He said a lot of history has been collected on lynching victims that are known. But he said, “We just want to make sure we contact those family members and friends and people who may have known some of them, so, we can let them know that we need them involved as much as we are involved.”

In addition, the group will hold mixer on Friday, May 3 at Senior Nutrition Center in Hayneville to let the public know about the cenotaph and lynching marker efforts, and race relations workshops tentatively set for Hayneville Middle School will be held on Saturday, May 4 for adults and youths.

Katanga Mants, vice-president of Friends of the Civil Rights Movement, said of the mixer, “With that event we are trying to have people from the community come in and hear about what we are doing and maybe commit to being a part of the group.”

She said to bring the cenotaph back to Lowndes County, a coalition has to be formed, which has begun, including people from inside and outside of Lowndes County, both black and white.

Mants also said an effort must be made to reach out to public and private school children, as well as home schooled children to become involved in the race relations discussions. She said “community service credit:” could be an “incentive” for student participation.

Mants also said a part of the project to bring the cenotaph home and erect the historical markers is an EJI essay scholarship contest for Lowndes County students in grades 9-12 with funds provided by EJI.

She said the essay must be between 700 and 1,000 words with four sources of information comparing something from the past to something “going on right now.”

She said first prize is $3,000, second $1,500 and third prize is $1,000. And the winning essay will be read at the historical marker unveiling.

Mants said under consideration is running the contest from the first of August to the middle of September.

As a side benefit of the cenotaph/historical marker effort by Lowndes County Friends of the Civil Rights Movement, Mants also said possibly a youth group could be formed with eighth graders that could be carried over to the high schools.

She said, “So, this might be an opportunity for our kids to one, learn the history of Lowndes County, as well as other history they may not know… things happened way before Dr. (Martin Luther) King ever came into the picture.” And she said those youths might become the future ambassadors of Lowndes County.

The Rev. Fannie Davis recently reported on lynchings in Lowndes County and where they all were held.

She said Theo Calloway was lynched in front of the Lowndes County Courthouse, Jim Cross, wife, son and daughter were lynched in Letohatchee; Neal Guinn and Jim Press Meriweather were near Beautiful Zion Church in Sandy Ridge; William Jones was lynched on Lowndes County 37 in Fort Deposit near Bishop Street; Ed Bracey was lynched in Hope Hull near Wasden Road; and Samuel and William Powell were lynched in Letohatchee near the railroad tracks in Montgomery near the Lowndes County line; Joe Souls  was lynched in Benton; an unknown was lynched in Letohatchee; G. Smith Walkins was lynched near Fort Dale Road in Fort Deposit; and William Westmoreland lynched in Fort Deposit near Lowndes County Road 45 South.

The names for whom individual markers are needed are Theo Calloway, William Westmoreland, William Jones, Neal Guinn, Joe Souls, Jim Press Meriweather, G. Smith Watkins and Ed Bracey.

Present for Friday’s meeting were Nelson and Mants, president and vice-president of Friends of the Civil Rights Movement, Ethel J. Williams, Joann Mants, Ethelyn Williams, Cheryl Davis, Mary Gardner, Barbara Cline, Arthur Poole, Julius Bennett and Fred Guarino of The Lowndes Signal.