Editor’s Note: WUFT-TV’s First at Five newscast on Tuesday incorrectly reported that Newberry’s mayor is “on record, doubting that markers of a painful past will help with unity.” These remarks should have been attributed to the former mayor, Bill Conrad. The current mayor, Jordan Marlowe, is quoted below.
Alachua County wants to wait a few more months before moving forward with a plan to place memorial markers at lynching sites throughout the county to give residents more time to ensure the total number included is complete.
The county’s Historical Commission reported to county commissioners on Tuesday they have learned of two more lynchings, bringing the total number of documented lynchings in Alachua County between 1877 and 1950 to at least 21, not 19 as previously cataloged.
The county wants to place a plaque listing everyone who was killed without due process outside the public defender’s office in downtown Gainesville, in addition to markers at the individual sites.
In its “Lynching in America” report, the Equal Justice Initiative, an Alabama-based nonprofit that provides legal representation to indigent defendants and prisoners, lists Alachua County’s total as 18 — the fifth highest in Florida, behind Orange, Columbia, Polk and Marion counties.
The Historical Commission confirmed 19 lynchings, all of black Americans, before the two white killings were recently added, with the expanded definition of any “extrajudicial killing, regardless of race.”
County Commissioner Robert Hutchinson recommended the Historical Commission work with the public defender’s office to come up with the wording and design for the markers.
What Public Defender Stacy Scott’s office “represents is the need for everybody — regardless if there’s guilt involved in what they did — to go through the process,” Hutchinson said at Tuesday’s meeting. “And we know some of the people that were lynched actually did some pretty terrible things, but they had a right to a fair trial and due process. And that’s what they did not get.”
For any other lynchings not yet documented, the public should be allowed to submit proof for marker inclusion over the next four months, Hutchinson said. (Historians believe there were indeed more than 21 lynchings, despite a lack of records on them, according to Kathleen Pagan, staff liaison for the Historical Commission.)
Pagan expressed concern over possible vandalism at the marker, but Hutchinson said that if the public defender’s office is chosen, security wouldn’t be a concern.
Hutchinson also expressed support for having a marker at or near each lynching site.
But instead of finding a place for the historical markers now, the county should do more public outreach, Pagan recommended.
“Recognizing that there was this atrocity is something that we know will have very much emotional impact,” she said. “However, it seems time to recognize that there have been lots of struggles in the African-American community and also to recognize the resilience of those families.”
Some black Americans would be lynched without even having committing a crime, Pagan said.
“I think the African-American community was living in a reign of terror,” she said, “and it was just a very tragic time in American history.”
Along with markers, the Historical Commission wants to create an online map that features information about the lynchings.
Kali Blount, a nurse at UF Health Shands Hospital, said during the public comment portion of the meeting that some do not want markers for each of the lynchings because “it might be shocking, or some people might be sensitive.” But he disagrees with this assertion and said such markers are important.
“A lot of historians will tell you, ‘The future started yesterday,'” Blount said. “So if you ignore history, you generally end up doomed to repeat it.”
Meanwhile, Jordan Marlowe, the mayor of Newberry, where 10 of the listed lynchings took place, said later by phone that he wants more community input.
“Without that community input, without the community seeking those memorials out and advocating for them, without the community input on what is memorialized and how it’s memorialized, I think we run the risk of doing more harm than good,” Marlowe said.
Marlowe said he has talked with both black and white community leaders, but never got a consensus on the issue.
“I have had conversations over the years with different community leaders, and the feelings have been rather mixed,” he said. “And I’m not aware of any plan or proposal to put a memorial inside the city of Newberry.”
Markers can be positive and “a healing process” for the community, Marlowe said, but the community should advocate for itself and shouldn’t be told what to do by the county.
“If it’s an outside group coming in and saying, ‘Hey, we think you should have this,’ then I would be opposed to that,” he said. “If my community wants to have this conversation, then I’m all for that.
“If it’s a mandate from the county, then I would ask the county to allow Newberry to remember Newberry’s past in the way that Newberry residents want to remember their past.”
At the next Alachua County Historical Commission meeting, scheduled for Oct. 9, members are expected to come up with a plan to reach out to community members to find any other lynchings that happened in the county.