Newly installed historical marker timely

Published 1:06 pm Wednesday, June 24, 2020

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Dear Editor,

An Equal Justice Initiative historical marker recognizing victims of an 1889 double lynching now stands in downtown Montevallo at the corner of Main and Shelby Streets. A dedication ceremony scheduled for April 2 was cancelled due to COVID-19 health concerns. People are encouraged instead to visit the site in small socially distanced groups.

“We cannot heal the deep wounds inflicted during the era of racial terrorism until we tell the truth about it,” observes EJI director Bryan Stevenson.

Many Montevallo citizens are ready to grapple with the truth about our past. “Although the marker speaks to a dark time in our history, it also provides a distinct opportunity for reflection and reconciliation,” says Norman McMillan. “It takes tremendous courage to confront a violent and traumatic past,” Jim McDonald notes, but such a reckoning can “lead to deeper dialogues and healing, which can only benefit the people of Montevallo.”

The vision of the EJI marker strikes many as remarkably timely. Montevallo citizen Tom Sanders finds the story told by the marker “emotionally moving and thought-provoking, particularly at this time in our nation.” Sierra Turner, co-leader of the coalition that worked with EJI to bring the marker to town, applauds the way it speaks to the need to “address the legacy of slavery, lynching and racial violence in the aftermath of the killings of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, and Breonna Taylor.”

Coalition co-leader Paul Mahaffey believes that the marker will start “a dialogue about history in which silenced voices are finally heard.” This more truthful understanding of our past “will lead to racial healing and social progress, and at this moment in history, both are desperately needed.”

Many members of the community openly rejoice in the installation of the marker. “The day we mark our History is the day we measure our Progress,” writes Tangee Edwards Williams.

Members of the local Guillory family express the joy and hope of many: “Our voice united sounds like freedom!!”

The names of the two African American men lynched near the marker in 1889 are unknown. They died alone, at the hands of a white mob. No one recorded their story. The newly installed EJI marker tells something of what happened to them here in Montevallo. It speaks to the profound upheavals of our moment and challenges us to move forward:

Millions of African Americans fled the South to escape the climate of terror. Those who remained faced continuing humiliation, intimidation, and trauma. Little has been done to address the legacy of lynching. Understanding the history of racial terrorism is critical to confronting challenges created by mass incarceration, excessive punishment, unjustified police violence, and the presumption of guilt and dangerousness that continue to burden African Americans and people of color today.

The marker represents a partnership between the city of Montevallo and the Montgomery-based Equal Justice Initiative. A coalition of citizens and allies throughout Shelby County, including the local chapter of the NAACP, formed the Montevallo Community Remembrance Project shortly after the opening of the National Memorial for Peace and Justice in Montgomery Spring 2018. The Remembrance Project sought to promote awareness of our history of racial terrorism and to install an EJI historical marker in our town. The marker was approved by the Montevallo city council in August 2019.

—Montevallo Community Remembrance Project Coalition Co-Leaders Kathy King, Paul Mahaffey and Sierra Turner