WALDO – Residents from across Alachua County joined city officials Saturday to honor five lynching victims from the Waldo, Hawthorne, Campville and Rochelle areas.
The event drew about 100 people of all ages and backgrounds. The Rev. Marie Herring with Dayspring Missionary Baptist Church had a reminder for the residents in attendance.
“When we forget, we have a tendency to repeat,” Herring said.
Herring said she feels as though society has forgotten the history of racist violence and that the political climate is devolving back to the Jim Crow days. Lynchings in the 19th and 20th centuries were used to terrorize blacks and maintain white supremecy and racial segregation.
As the memorial service began and the sun broke through the clouds, the crowd sang along with Trina Green to “Lift Every Voice and Sing.” The community remembrance embodied Alachua County’s truth and reconciliation initiative that aims to set an example for how local government can recall its role in the history of racial injustice and repair what it can.
Naa D. Ayoka Jasey and Nii Sowa La, members of the Atlas African Methodist Episcopal Church, led the group in a drum call and libation.
“The libation [is] the ancient and Earth prayer,” Jasey said. “[It’s] usually at the very beginning of everything that the African group does…The drum is pulling in the vibrations for a successful event. In order for our ancestors to surround us, and to join us, in whatever we are doing.”
La removed his shoes to begin the libation and poured water into the soil between his prayers.
“We use water because out of it, everything came,” La said. “I am standing in a sacred spot now before the magic creator. Now, we are powering the water to show that kind of strong worship to you. You are the only creator. We worship no other god, only you. You are the only god.”
An invocation was given, followed by a reading of Christian scripture. Community pastors and leaders joined together to guide the community in prayer.
John Nix, an energy conservation specialist, was among representatives from the Waldo, Hawthorne, Campville and Rochelle areas who attended the ceremony. Nix spoke about his roots in Rochelle and why the event was important to him.
“Rochelle is the heart from which I come,” Nix said. “I am the fourth generation of the city of Rochelle. The Hall Chapel United Methodist Church was founded by my grandfather. I still own our farm in Rochelle. It is a legacy from which I came.”
Alachua County Commissioner Charles Chestnut IV said the county’s goal is truth and reconciliation. The soil collection allows the community to recognize and commemorate the lives lynched in Alachua County.
The five lynching victims were then remembered by the community as their stories were read aloud by Deputy County Manager the Rev. Carl Smart.
An unidentified Black man was abducted from jail by a white mob and shot to death in Waldo in 1889, Smart said. The unidentified man was presumed guilty of stealing a suitcase from a passenger train. He was whipped and lynched for trying to defend himself from the mob.
Accused of burglary and arson in 1892, an unidentified Black child was hanged from the beam of a storage building in Waldo, Smart said. His body remained there for at least a day, and hundreds came to view the boy’s lynched body.
Charles Wiley from Rochelle was shot for using “strong language” toward a white man in his yard, Smart said. His bed was then set on fire while he was still in it.
Henry White from Campville was abducted by a white mob from the waiting room of a train station in 1913, Smart said. A noise was heard from an adjoining bedroom, and White was allegedly found underneath a white woman’s bed. He was held captive and hanged from a tree nearby.
George Buddington, who was about 60, was shot to death by a white mob in Campville in 1926, Smart said. He was accused of threatening a white woman who owed him money.
No one was ever held accountable for any of these lynchings, Smart said.
After music, spoken word and candle lighting, the transfer of soil into jars began.
Ninth Circuit Judge Mikaela Nix-Walker, who is the first African American woman to win a contested race in the Orlando circuit, was also present for the ceremony.
“It was an amazing ceremony today,” Nix-Walker said. “I am so proud to be here representing Orlando, and more importantly representing Rochelle with my heritage, with my father [John Nix] and everyone here.”
Nix-Walker brought her 4-year-old son Dylan Walker to the event. He smiled as he walked to the table covered in jars and carefully placed the collected soil into each labeled container.
“My 4-year-old son was a part of something he will remember for the rest of his life,” Nix-Walker said.
The Waldo-Hawthorne-Campville-Rochelle Community Remembrance Project partnered with the Equal Justice Initiative aims to confront racial injustice.
“There are those today in our country who are trying to eliminate our past history,” former Alachua County commissioner Rodney Long said. “How can you whitewash history when you don’t include the atrocities that happened to our African American people, on the journey from Africa to this country?”
His words echoed those of the Rev. Herring’s.
“Where do we go from here?” Long asked. “If we don’t remember our past, our history, then we are destined to repeat it.”