Alachua County held its Truth and Reconciliation Community Remembrance Project Workshop on Monday evening at the county’s Senior Recreation Center, marking another step in its process of rectifying an ugly racial past.
County officials, along with other local community leaders discussed their plans to honor the 46 known victims of lynching in Alachua County. They made a call for the community to participate and support the efforts by coming forward with their stories of unreported lynchings, so other possible victims can be honored as well.
Previous events have included a joint meeting of Alachua County and Gainesville City Commissioners, as well as a candle-lit memorial that honored the 46 victims. The lynchings are known to have taken place between just after the Civil War and just before the Great Depression.
The workshop was part of Alachua County’s 10-step Truth and Reconciliation initiative, which maps out the future events and plans that will be held to further make amends with the community.
At the end of its 10-step process, the county aims to request recognition from the Equal Justice Initiative’s Community Remembrance Project at the National Memorial for Peace and Justice in Montgomery, Alabama.
County Commissioner Charles Chestnut began the workshop by thanking everyone for their well-wishes and prayers during his recovery following his collapse at a county commission meeting last week. He went on to discuss the need for community members to come forward with their lynching stories, as that is the only way unknown victims can be properly recognized.
Dr. Patricia Hilliard-Nunn, an adjunct associate professor in the African American Studies Program at the University of Florida, spoke of the “mental terrorism” that many African Americans suffer from after years of racism and white supremacy around Alachua and other neighboring counties.
“People were afraid,” Dr. Hilliard-Nunn said. “They’re in fear of telling those stories — even to this day in some cases — and many of the people who can tell the stories pass.”
Newberry was the first city in Florida to partner with EJI, Mayor Jordan Marlowe said.
“The pros outweighed any potential negatives, and two years later, I’m here to say that that decision was absolutely correct,” he said.
Marlowe went on to note ways Newberry city government has acted as a trailblazer in the county: Taking local high school students to Montgomery to learn about other cities that were scenes of lynchings or bringing more than 650 people together from 12 different churches to break bread in the city.
“The county has done a tremendous job of forming these historic boards, forming these committees that have done the legwork and the research… allowing us to proceed the way we are right now,” he said.
Other attendees were glad to see the progress made by the county’s efforts.
“This is the first step,” said Evelyn Foxx, president of the Alachua County NAACP. “They’re willing to have this conversation so that’s a step in the right direction.”
The end goal is for EJI to pay for various historical markers and monuments around Alachua County that will honor the victims of lynching once the truth is fully told and reconciliation efforts in the community reach a conclusion.
The next event of the 10-step process will take place on April 4 at 10 a.m. at an area known as Lynch Hammock in Newberry, a place where lynchings are said to have taken place and given the area its name.
Members of the community are invited to come together and collect 12 jars of soil. Six of the jars will be sent to Montgomery to be a part of EJI’s remembrance display, while the other six jars will stay in Alachua and be incorporated into local museums.