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From the family: Looking back, moving forward

Hope

While divided in our feelings about the proposed service, we remain hopeful that it can provide a forum in which we acknowledge the pain of our past and the present day challenges of racial division and injustice.

— Descendants of Lucille Gillespie Avery

In 1906, three black men were brutally tortured, lynched and mutilated in retaliation for the axe murders of four members of the Lyerly family of the Barber community of Rowan County. One of those men, Nease Gillespie, was our great-grandfather, and his son John Gillespie was our great uncle. While we will never know what happened the night of the murders, we do know that Nease, John and Jack Dillingham went to their deaths, protesting their innocence. The only unchallenged truth is that both the Lyerly family and our family suffered immeasurable losses.

The Presbyterian Church USA began a program of Truth, Healing and Reconciliation, which has manifested in public ceremonies at the sites of lynchings across the South as “liturgies of remembrance and repentance.” Our family became aware of a planned program at the site where Nease, John and Jack were lynched.

The initial plan when presented to local pastors has transformed into a larger service spearheaded by leaders of the faith community in our area. Our family members have been involved in varying degrees in the planning process. While divided in our feelings about the proposed service, we remain hopeful that it can provide a forum in which we acknowledge the pain of our past and the present day challenges of racial divisions and injustice.

We are not so naïve as to think that this one-day service will miraculously mend the wounds of the past and wipe out the problems of the present, but we are encouraged by the cooperation of the committee members who represent many diverse populations in our community.

It is in that spirit that we, the descendants of Nease Gillespie, thank the Actions in Faith Committee for their efforts on behalf of Nease, John and Jack. We will never forget the painful lessons of our shared past or that it is also our shared responsibility to move forward to confront our issues as ONE community.

— Descendants of
Lucille Gillespie Avery

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