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Clinton aldermen asked to move forward on lynching marker

By Randy Bell

Clinton MS Welcome Sign

Clinton could soon take a step to acknowledge one of the darker moments in the city’s past. A Mississippi College history professor is asking the aldermen to place a marker near the spot where two Black men arrested on robbery charges were taken from jail and later lynched in 1894. Dr. Otis W. Pickett said an investigation he’s done, along with research by MC student Jeremy Watkins and a colleague, Dr. Patrick Connelly, produced more than enough evidence to substantiate the murders of Will James and Henry Smith at the hands of a Clinton mob.

 

“It’s something the City ought to pursue,” Pickett said after speaking to the aldermen during a Board work session in early May. “We know the names. We know where it happened.”

 

Pickett said it’s important for the City to address the lynchings.

 

“We’re showing the rest of the state and the nation that we’re really wrestling with this history. We’re not sweeping it under a rug. We’re really trying to walk through it and be open and honest about it.”

 

Pickett said the actions of the mob angered many people who were living in the city at the time.

 

“A lot of Clinton citizens were outraged that this happened. We have a resolution from Mississippi College faculty and alumni that absolutely denounced this, asking the governor to seek a reward” for apprehending those involved.

 

James and Smith had been arrested for robbing a store and were in the jail, known as the Clinton Calaboose, when the mob took them and left the men hanging from persimmon trees about a mile from town along Clinton-Raymond Road. Pickett believes the jail site in Olde Towne would be an appropriate place for the marker.

 

“That’s where the men were taken [from]. That would be a place where people could walk by and see [the marker]. A prominent place.”

 

Pickett said Clinton would become the second city in Mississippi to erect a lynching marker. Oxford has already done so.

 

“I think it can bring us together and make us stronger.”

 

Pickett will be leaving his position at MC at the end of June.

 

“I wanted to make sure before I left that these documents were disseminated to the aldermen, so that someone else wouldn’t have to go back and do the research again.”

 

He said Alderwoman Ricki Garrett has been an advocate for the project and helped to arrange his appearance before the Board.

 

The City’s ad hoc History Committee has been working in recent years to tell the story of race relations in Clinton.

 

“Some of it would make you really proud, and some of it would make you just flinch,” said committee member Martha Hudson. “Lynching is another part of that story. We cannot pick and choose. It might be something we would rather not explore – but we must – for the sake of telling the history as it happened.” There’s already a marker in Olde Towne commemorating the assassination of Senator Charles Caldwell, who was ambushed a few weeks after encouraging fellow Blacks to vote in an 1875 election.

 

Hudson said she appreciates the work of the professor and his associates in providing the documentation about the lynchings.

 

Clinton’s only Black alderman would like to see the marker installed.

 

Ward 6 Alderman James Lott said, “It’s a great opportunity for the city to come to terms with its past.” He said having a marker at the actual location where the incident began would be “invaluable.”

 

Pickett said the Equal Justice Initiative (EJI) is willing to fund the project, so the marker could be erected at no cost to the City. EJI, based in Montgomery, Alabama, promotes Community Remembrance Projects, which include historical markers. EJI partners with community coalitions in identifying marker sites, drafting the text for the markers and planning meaningful unveiling ceremonies. The organization pays the cost of fabricating the markers and having them shipped to the communities. A statement on its website says, “EJI believes historical markers change our national landscape; they publicly claim the truth in necessary ways.”

 

And while the marker could serve as an official acknowledgement of what happened to these two men 128 years ago, Will James and Henry Smith weren’t the only victims of mob violence in Clinton. It’s believed that Ellis Young met a similar fate in 1888. Pickett has been trying to document that incident, but he said more research needs to be done. Eventually, the names of all three men could be added to a lynching memorial at the Mississippi Civil Rights Museum in Jackson, which now lists the Clinton victims as “unknown black males.” The museum is doing its own research to confirm Pickett’s findings.



 

2 Comments

  1. Earl Mounger on June 27, 2022 at 7:50 pm

    I want to thank professor Pickett for his research. It takes courage to acknowledge such a shameful part of our town when so many individuals would instead rewrite history. My grandmother had spoken of a tree where a lynching had occurred on the property that my family owns on the Clinton Raymond Road. We can not erase history, but we can learn from past mistakes. As painful as this is, I have always been proud to be a Clintonian.

  2. Alexeypes on August 8, 2022 at 10:56 am

    Hello. And Bye.

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