Micanopy Commissioner Jiana Williams pours soil collected from or near the lynching sites into one of the memorial glass jars. (Anissa Dimilta/WUFT News)

Micanopy and Wacahoota lynching victims memorialized with soil collection ceremony

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Henry Hinson was lynched and hung from a cedar tree near the Micanopy town center where his lifeless body hung from the tree from sunup to sundown for all the residents to see. He allegedly shot and killed a prominent white man in town.

The Micanopy-Wacahoota Community Remembrance Project, in partnership with the Equal Justice Initiative (EJI) and the Alachua County Community Remembrance Project (AACRP), held a soil collection ceremony on Saturday at the Willie Mae Stokes Community Center to honor Hinson and three other lynching victims in Micanopy and Wacahoota.

The soil was collected from or near the lynching sites across Micanopy and Wacahoota and poured into glass jars labeled for each victim. The blood, sweat and tears that had fallen into the soil are still present and serve as both a connection to and memorial for the victims.

The glass jars adorned with victim’s names awaits to be filled by soil in the containers on the
ground below. (Anissa Dimilta/WUFT News)

The ceremony memorialized the lives of Jacob Lee of Wacahoota, Harry Simonton of Micanopy, Jim Jenkins of Wacahoota and Henry Hinson of Micanopy. The lynchings occurred in 1867, 1867, 1870 and 1892, respectively. There is little documentation about the first three victims, however, there is surviving testimony and evidence of the lynching of Henry Hinson on Jan. 12, 1892.

An article published on Jan. 13, 1892 in the New York Times detailed the alleged events that led to the murder of Hinson. After leaving the segregated section of a crowd and mingling amongst the white women he was asked to return to his designated area. Hinson then shot the white man who asked him to move. After escaping, Hinson was eventually captured and put in jail. About 100 armed white men kidnapped him from the jail and lynched him in the town center.

In her memoir, one Micanopy resident recalled hearing the gunshots of the initial altercation said Bill Harlan, a member of the subcommittee project and the president of the Micanopy Historical Society. The author also recalled her cousin coming over the next day to tell her how she saw a Black man hanging from a tree outside her window, Harlan said.

According to the Alachua Country Truth and Reconciliation Lynching Victim Timeline, 50 lynchings occurred between 1867 and 1942 in Alachua County.  This was the sixth soil collection ceremony under the ACCRP to memorialize those victims. The jars will soon join other soil collections at The Legacy Museum in Montgomery, Alabama. Soil from the sites will also remain on display in Micanopy and Wacahoota.

The Micanopy-Wacahoota project has been almost two years in the making and Jiana Williams, Micanopy commissioner and subcommittee project chair, said there were many feelings involved. Her initial reaction, she said, was anger because she was born and raised in Micanopy yet unaware of just how close racial terror lynchings occurred.

“It’s been rewarding just to go through the process and learn everything that we’ve learned to make the connections that we’ve made with the other subcommittees to bring it all into a larger context. It’s honorable to be able to bring remembrance to these individuals,” Commissioner Williams said.

Commissioner Williams is not the only Micanopy-born and raised resident shocked by learning of local lynchings. Bishop Christopher Stokes, director of the Willie Mae Stokes Community Center, was also born and raised in Micanopy and had never heard of a lynching in the town.

“The more and more I became involved in it (this ceremony) the more and more I wanted to see it through. The more and more it started to take meaning to tell the stories to the younger kids,” said Bishop Stokes.

There was an overall theme and understanding of unity and hope by the event attendees and those involved in organizing the ceremony.

“It (this ceremony) means that we as a community, Alachua County, are being very serious about truth and reconciliation; understanding the wrongs that have been inflicted upon African Americans, whether that be through lynchings, suppressing votes, denied access to programs and institutions,” said Steven Butler, the chairperson for both the membership and communications committees and an executive board member of the Alachua County Branch of the NAACP.

The ceremony included discussions on the significance of the lynchings, a narrative of the Micanopy victims and a family tribute.

State Rep. Yvonne Hayes Hinson pours soil collected from or near the lynching sites into one of
the memorial glass jars. (Anissa Dimilta/WUFT News)

Yvonne Hayes Hinson serves as the representative for Florida House of Representatives District 20 and has deeper roots to the ceremony than most attendees. Her son is named after Henry Hinson, his great-grandfather. Henry Hinson is the representatives ex-husband’s grandfather. She had only ever heard stories about the lynching before Saturday’s ceremony.

“The courage, the sheer intestinal fortitude it takes to keep your temper and self-control under wraps when ordered to be a voice for the people,” Hinson said. “I’ve had to practice that a lot lately being a state representative, but never more than today when the actual historical facts reveal a much more gruesome than I had even imagined, and I had to hold it together to be a voice for the people I represent.”

One word stood out during her speech: uncomfortable.

“We are facing banned books and prohibiting public school teachers from teaching our nation’s history if it makes some people uncomfortable,” Hinson said. “Well, aren’t we uncomfortable today with these stories? I’m uncomfortable. I’m uncomfortable hearing about my son’s great-grandfather. That was an uncomfortable story, but it was a necessary story.”

The Micanopy-Wacahoota project did not end Saturday with the soil collection. The project committee has their eyes set on one more goal for the near future: installing a historical marker to permanently memorialize the victims. In alliance with the EJI, committee projects have three portions: racial justice essay contest, soil collection and the historical marker installation. The commemorative marker is one more step to unify the community and provide awareness for previous and ongoing racial injustices.

“Racism exists. Hatred exists. It existed then. It exists now. The memories of the souls taken from this Earth live on in our memory. This soil ensures that they will never be forgotten – this soil makes them have a voice,” Hinson said.

About Anissa Dimilta

Anissa is a reporter for WUFT News who can be reached by calling 352-392-6397 or emailing news@wuft.org.

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