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City Council works through historical accuracy of lynching resolution

By Liz Moomey
liz.moomey@salisburypost.com

SALISBURY — The historical accuracies of a resolution of reconciliation regarding the 1906 Salisbury lynching came under attack at Tuesday’s City Council meeting.

Mayor Pro Tem David Post and council member Karen Alexander spoke of their concerns about apologizing for the city of Salisbury’s role in the 1906 lynching.

The resolution states: “We, the City Council of Salisbury, do hereby resolve to begin and participate in the reconciliation process, by apologizing for our government’s role in this atrocity and formally acknowledging the unjust lynching of the afore named African Americans in our community.”

Post said he consulted Catawba College historian Gary Freeze, a historian at Catawba College, about the resolution. Post said Freeze found it historically inaccurate.

“The City of Salisbury didn’t have anything to do with it,” Post said in an interview Thursday.

Mayor Al Heggins, who drafted the resolution, said she used research from the Actions in Faith & Justice Committee and used information from Susan Barringer Wells’ book, “A Game Called Salisbury.” In an interview, Heggins said she had not spoken to Freeze or Professor Claude Clegg at UNC-Chapel Hill who wrote about the Salisbury lynchings in “Troubled Ground.” She has reached out to both since.

Clegg has reviewed the resolution and said it is generally accurate in terms of matters of fact and what happened in 1906. He added there are two points in the resolution that assume all actors had the same motivations, when that is unclear.

The ninth line stating “the officials in charge of the local government and the community were steeped in bias, bigotry, racism, violence and hate,” Clegg offers a suggestion of the line stating:  “WHEREAS, the judge, bearing responsibility for this case, called in local military soldiers to maintain order, because the officials in charge of the local government and the community were either unwilling or ineffective in doing so — creating an environment which did not favor or provide due process and protection for those accused and detained; and …”

Clegg said he would edit the 10th line, which states “being aligned with the same prejudice beliefs as the local government officials and the community…” to “”WHEREAS, the soldiers, being poorly led and ill equipped, failed to stop the white mob from storming the county jail the night of August 6, 1906, and abducting three accused African-American males; and …”

Post has drafted his own resolution of reconciliation and sent it to council members on Thursday. In his resolution, he added the lynchings of James Gillespie and Harrison Gillespie in 1902. Post said he “didn’t editorialize it.”

At Tuesday’s meeting, Post, Alexander and council member Brian Miller spoke about their concerns that the resolution was divisive, confrontation and raw.

Whitney Peckman, who spoke during the public comment, said the resolution needs to be raw.

“A couple of people said that the language was raw, and I want to say in the resolution the language needs to be truthful and in order to be truthful in this instance it is raw and it was hate,” Peckman said. “When you hang people and shoot people and you cut them apart and leave their innards on the ground, it’s hate.”

Renee MacNutt, of Salisbury, spoke at the City Council meeting and said the city didn’t pull any stops to prevent the lynchings of Jack Dillingham, Nease Gillespie and John Gillespie.

“It was the hatred behind pulling them out of the prison and doing all kinds of brutal acts on them,” MacNutt said. “That’s what the resolution is addressing. The fact that someone got convicted, yeah that’s great, but that doesn’t take away from the original hate that we’re trying to reconcile and say that the government wasn’t involved historically everywhere you see that the government turned a blind eye at best if not were also involved.”

At the meeting, council members concluded they would work together on the resolution, and Heggins said she was willing to “massage the message” for the Aug. 21 council meeting.

On Thursday, Heggins said she is still willing.

“It’s always my goal to work together with council.”

The Post reached out to Gary Freeze at Catawba College but did not receive a response regarding his thoughts of the historical accuracy of the resolution of reconciliation.

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