RACIAL DIViDE: Marker dedication highlights ongoing race issues, organizers say
A plaque commemorating a dark episode of local Shelby County history was unveiled and dedicated on Saturday, Dec. 15, as a crowd of about 100 people watched on.
But it was not dedicated on the spot where it should have been located, according to Delbert Jackson, a local organizer of the effort to memorialize lynchings which took place nearly 100 years ago in Center.
The plaque was made possible by the nonprofit Equal Justice Initiative to memorialize the lynchings of African American men in Shelby County in the 1920s, Jackson said.
Jackson said while the plaque was installed and dedicated near the intersection of MLK Drive and Daniels Street, he hopes that is not the final resting place for the marker. Earlier this year Jackson helped lead an effort attempting to have a historical marker placed on the lawn of the historic Shelby County Courthouse in the vicinity of where Lige Daniels, a 16-year-old black man, was hanged on Aug. 2, 1920.
“It set me back a bit when county officials didn't want to acknowledge it was a racial terror killing,” Jackson said at the dedication. He said allowing the plaque to be placed in a prominent location on Center's downtown square by local officials would mean they were recognizing the shame of what their white ancestors did nearly 100 years ago.
“Thousands of black people were the victims of lynching and racial violence in the United States between 1877 and 1950,” Jackson said. “During this era, the racial terror lynching of African Americans emerged as a stunning form of violent resistance to emancipation and equal rights for African Americans, intended to intimidate black people and enforce racial hierarchy and segregation.”
The local organizer said while the marker is focused on the two local lynchings, it represents a much larger issue in American society — the issue of racism.
“We’ve been working in this project almost a year now. I’m glad this day is finally here. Nothing could make me prouder than to have worked with the Equal Justice Initiative and the local churches to get this done,” Jackson said.
Several descendants of the Lige Daniels family were present at the event including Reggie Daniels who said sometimes real history gets lost and he was proud to see this aspect of Shelby County's history memorialized.
Reggie Daniels said he grew up hearing stories about the lynching.
“My father told me about it and some of the things that had transpired,” Reggie Daniels said. “I can’t say I’m excited, but now my kids can come by and see this and know this happened in Center, Texas.”
Jackson read the inscription on both side of the plaque and said historic accounts of the lynching of Daniels indicates he was accused of killing a white woman but was never given an opportunity for a trial. He said a crowd took matters into their own hands.
“Despite an order from the governor to secure Mr. Daniels safety, a mob of white men, swelling to an estimated one thousand participants, beat down the jail's doors and stormed inside,” Jackson said. Daniels was seized from this cell and hanged from an oak tree on the courthouse lawn.
“Like many victims of racial terror lynching, no proof of Lige Daniels' guilt was required,” he said.
Frank Simpson, who assisted in research and efforts to get the marker erected, said he just wants equality for everyone.
“We have just been working to make sure everybody is treated equality,” Simpson said. “We have a love of everyone regardless of race, religion or background.”
Simpson said he has worked at the Tyson plant in Center for more than 30 years. He said he was hopeful that recognizing the wrongs of the past will help pull the community together.
After the marker dedication, organizers hosted a Community Remembrance Program at Triumph the Church and Kingdom of God in Christ where a program of music, speeches and reflection was held.
Among those speaking was Shelby County Historical Commission member Vanessa Davis who said she wanted to make it clear she was speaking from her own beliefs and feelings and not those expressed by the commission.
Davis said the group’s rejection of the proposal to have the market placed on the courthouse law was hurtful to her and others.
“We see a legacy of slavery and terror lynchings, whereas you would think in 2018, you would see a legacy of the greatness that African-Americans have presented to this nation,” Davis said. “Because of the slavery and because of the terror lynchings, what we see is a terrorized, traumatized nation.”
Davis said to heal from that hurt the truth about racial violence needs to be recognized and talked about.
“Do we heal by turning our heads? Do we heal by hiding our heads in the sand?” Davis asked. “Do we heal by not talking about it? Does that help the situation? Today, I say no.”
Cherry Steinwender, executive director of The Center For the Healing of Racism, was the keynote speaker.
“I want to dedicate today, yes to Mr. Daniels. But I want to deviate today to the innocents … all of the thousands of little children who were at the sites of lynchings across the county,” Steinwender said. Many photos of lynchings show young white children in the crowd, she said.
“It’s not just what they saw but what they heard. They heard cheering,” Steinwender said. “They heard a lot of hallelujahs. They probably heard that God is on our side,” she said.
“They probably said that he deserved to be lynched because he was black and that black people are inferior,” Steinwender said. “What all did those children hear?”
She a large part of the ongoing issue of racial unrest in this nation is the fact Americans have not acknowledged their history, which includes slavery and the advancing of racial stereotypes long after the Civl War.
“We need to have these conversations to make peace with the past,” Steinwender said. “We need to build relationships of trust.”
“Without truth there can be no healing,” Steinwender said. “People of Center, Texas and people of this whole nation, it is time for us to go deeper in our religion and to really examine our belief system in order to be able to be productive in dismantling the forces that keep us apart.”
Evan Milligan, with the Montgomery, Alabama-based Equal Justice Initiative, said it took courage for those attending the ceremony to show up.
“We applaud you all for coming here today and for being courageous enough to focus on this history,” Milligan said. “It is not easy to think about or talk about.”
Equal Justice Initiative fellow Gabrielle Daniels said the photo of Lige Daniels' lynching is displayed prominently in the Equal Justice Initiative’s museum in Montgomery, Ala.
A photograph of the lynching shows Daniels lifeless body hanging from the tree while a group of white men and boys — most smiling — stand under his body.
That image and Jackson's research of lynchings spurred him on to focus attention on that aspect of local history.
“Once I realized that people here in Center, Texas, didn’t know the full history and significance of what happened, I made a point to let everybody know,” he said.
For more information on the event, please see these online resources:
Delbert Jackson discusses wording on marker:
Mar Perkins reading his winning Equal Justice Initiative essay:
Cherry Steinwender, executive director of The Center For The Healing of Racism, giving the keynote address:
For a photo gallery from the events: