The addition of a sculptor and a History Museum of Mobile board member to a group seeking a memorial for Mobile County lynching victims were welcome developments at the group’s March 18 meeting. More sobering were the questions and tasks that were clarified.
The Mobile County Remembrance Project is part of an effort tied to Montgomery’s Equal Justice Initiative and the National Lynching Memorial that opened in April 2018. EJI has offered to assist local memorial efforts in each of the counties whose victims were listed.
Meeting coordinator and Mobile County Commissioner Merceria Ludgood read a lengthy list of questions that remain to be addressed, relating to local efforts past and present, contacting victims’ family members, fundraising, public education, resistance from the community and so on. With no site yet chosen, the project could be years from completion.
“Do we have the system to just put up a marker and walk away and say, ‘Great?’ We do but there’s a lot of work we need to do,” Ludgood said. “Why do we need it? Why is it important for the community?”
She then broke the racially-diverse body of roughly 30 into four smaller subcommittees to tackle the questions and answers.
The Montgomery memorial contains more than 400 Corten steel slabs for U.S. counties, inscribed with a list of the respective county’s lynching victims from 1877 to 1950. There is also a yard of twin markers, on the ground, in alphabetical order. EJI said its vision was for those to be claimed by the corresponding counties for public display in acknowledgement of crimes that are often ignored.
“This is a different marker than the twin marker at the memorial,” Ludgood said. EJI’s plans have altered in a year’s time since they now assist in erecting markers similar to standard historical plaques like those found at Mobile’s numerous historic sites, including along its African-American Heritage Trail.
“I’m not sure [EJI] had the protocols worked out when they opened the memorial, and this has developed as requests have come in,” Mary Mullins said. She has been part of a similar, older effort in Baldwin County that is closer to receiving its marker.
Further committee reports will be summarized at an April 29 meeting, time and place to be verified later.
Members of the Partnership Committee discussed business sponsorships based on needs for community engagement, deciding to draft a letter for those requests.
“It’s not just about getting a plaque here. It’s about understanding,” committee member Merv White-Spunner said.
A Community History Committee touched on previous efforts to bridge inequality issues and racial divisions. They were quick to point to John LeFlore’s Non-Partisan Voters League, the Neighborhood Organized Workers and former mayor Mike Dow’s race committee of the 1990s.
“There was also Mobile United but its mission has shifted,” Ludgood said.
A lot of people affiliated with Mobile’s various colleges and universities — educators and students alike — were on hand. They gravitated toward the Public Education Committee and discussed on-campus efforts to generate activity and utilizing existing field trips to Montgomery hosted by local Episcopal churches. Other ideas were aimed at distributing information through the monthly LoDa Artwalks. They would also organize and execute the high school essay contest EJI wants communities to undertake.
The Media Committee might have the hardest road, charged with formulating a response to the community resistance nearly guaranteed to arise. Ludgood warned the body in their initial meeting, saying it would come from all quarters.
Former History Museum of Mobile director David Alsobrook said he met pushback when working on his 1983 doctoral dissertation. Mobilians both black and white were reluctant.
Is this effort important? Local Sons of Confederate Veterans contend too much history is purposefully ignored. The racially inspired violence at discussion here might fit that bill, too.
Outrageous civil rights conflagrations in Birmingham, Montgomery and Selma allowed Mobilians to adopt a sanitized mythology of its own complex racial history. Many touch on LeFlore and Michael Donald, then generally breeze past everything else.
Memorialized Mobile County lynching victims’ stories reveal a more problematic reality. Savagery was shuffled beyond city limits, a paper-thin ruse to dodge culpability. The history museum’s recent work with the Civil Rights and Restorative Justice project revealed the violence continued through the rest of the 20th century until Donald was murdered in 1981.
Many saw it, but kept quiet. Mobile author Frye Gaillard wrote in the 1970s that Mobile was “stagnating in superficial reality.”
Mobile wasn’t so much “better,” just “different.” Ultimately, we were just as flawed, just as noble, just as complicated, just as human.
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