At the National Memorial of Peace and Justice in Montgomery, Alabama, 805 steel rectangles hang from the central plaza’s ceiling. Each the size and shape of a coffin. Each marking a different county in the United States where a lynching took place between the years of 1870 and 1950.
The memorial, the work of the Equal Justice Initiative, opened last April, and represents part of the most significant effort to address a terrible but often-avoided aspect of American history in the years following the Civil War: a wave of what the EJI calls “racial terror lynching’s” across the country.
And Orange County is no different. It has a slab in Montgomery too, commemorating the lynching of Manly McCauley in late October of 1898. McCauley was reportedly lynched at what is now the intersection of Old Highway 86 and Homestead Road.
Now, the Orange County Community Remembrance Coalition, co-chaired by local NAACP vice president James Williams and Orange County Commissioner Renee Price, is working with the EJI to bring remembrance of lynching’s dark national and local history to Orange County.
This week, the remembrance coalition kicked off their efforts at a reception at the United Church of Chapel Hill. Ultimately, they want to bring Orange County’s marker in Montgomery to a resting spot in the local area. The EJI provides duplicate steel memorials to counties that engage in remembrance projects like the one the OCCRC is undertaking here.
James Williams spoke to WCHL’s Aaron Keck in December about their recent efforts to recognize the past here in Orange County. He said that history is not so far away, and it still has lessons and ties to the world we live in today.
“Now, we’re dealing with voter suppression today,” he said. “A lot of racial terror and lynchings came about as a result of that very thing. Trying to prevent black people from have access to the ballot and suppressing their constitutional right to vote. So, those legacies still have yet to be reckoned with.”
The remembrance coalition’s next event is February 2, where they will be holding a symposium at Hillsborough’s Passmore Center from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on the legacy of lynching. There will be panel of historians and local students of history. Jacki Shelton Green, North Carolina Poet Laureate and Orange County native, will perform as well.
More details on that event, and information on the remembrance coalition, can be found by contacting Renee Price 919-619-1139 or email@example.com, or JamesWilliams at 919-819-0364 or firstname.lastname@example.org.