Actions in Faith and Justice continues to remember August 6 lynchings

Published 12:05 am Sunday, July 29, 2018

By Andie Foley

August 6, 1906. Three African-American men have just returned to the Rowan County jail after completing their first day in court. The threesome have been accused of murder, but they will never see a fair trial.

Never, because a mob of 3,000 will storm the jail, march them to an area known as Henderson Woods and hang them before opening fire on their corpses.

The incident, known today as the August 6 lynchings, was for years part of Rowan’s unspoken and forgotten history. But not any longer.

“It’s a painful issue, but it’s a part of our history,” said Betty Jo Hardy, committee member of the local group Actions in Faith and Justice. “… We need to recognize and acknowledge it before there can be any real healing in the community.”

Bringing the past to light

In 2017, Actions in Faith and Justice worked to facilitate restoration and awareness through a community forum held at the Salisbury Civic Center. The forum was followed by a “Service of Truth, Healing and Reconciliation” near the site of the hangings.

This year, the group seeks to continue the conversation with an Aug. 6 screening of the award-winning documentary “An Outrage: The History of Lynching in the American South.”

The screening will be held at 6:30 p.m. at the Rowan Public Library’s main branch.

Filmmakers Hannah Ayers and Lance Warren explore six incidents of lynching to address its lasting affects, using insight from community activists, scholars and descendants of victims.

Ayers and Warren explain that lynching was used as a means of social control and racial violence against African Americans.

Though lynchings no longer occur, this control and violence persists, said Hardy.

“In some ways, it continues today in more subtle actions, discriminations or injustices,” she said. “… These kind of injustices are going on with institutional racism and police brutality. We need to recognize it wherever it is.”

Moving forward

In the National Memorial for Peace and Justice in Montgomery, Alabama, a plaque hangs in memory of Rowan County’s lynching victims.

Names and dates are given. The date on the last name on the plaque? 1930.

Though the August 6 lynchings weren’t Rowan’s last, it represented a turning point for the area.

For the first time, the state charged and convicted a participant in the gruesome attack. George Hall received 15 years of hard labor. His conviction was the first in North Carolina’s history.

Claude A. Clegg III, author of “Troubled Ground: A Tale of Murder, Lynching, and Reckoning in the New South,” said in an essay of the event that it represented a turning point.

“If the 1906 Salisbury lynching was a microcosm of the forces of race, class, and history that had influenced the larger American experience, then its aftermath pointed, hopefully and cautiously, to new possibilities regarding North Carolina race relations,” he said.

Hardy and the Actions in Faith and Justice are equally hopeful: hopeful for community restoration and continued to remembrance.

Susan Lee, another committee member with Actions in Faith and Justice, said the event is meant to pave the way to the next August 6 event in 2019.

Working in partnership with national nonprofit Equal Justice Initiative, the group hopes to place a memorial plaque in the city on Aug. 6, 2019.

“Healing is the hope. That is the hope of this,” said Hardy.