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Or fear. Either way, Higginbottom knew better than to mention his daddy.

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Sometimes he asked his cousins Dorothy and Olivia about him, but they told him to leave it alone. You might get hurt. But it had been a long time. He stared at the fields consumed by kudzu, the gravel drives, the hardwoods lush with summer growth, and saw only a foreign country. What does it mean to confront the past? African-Americans lag behind white Americans in almost every conceivable measure of well-being: educational attainment, homeownership rates, income, health outcomes, life expectancy. Black men are far more likely than their white counterparts to fall into poverty, to be incarcerated, to be shot to death by the police.

Although racially motivated lynchings also took place in other states, they were far more common in the South. Black men accused of violent crimes — many of whom were very likely innocent — were frequent targets. But other black men, and women and even children, too, were lynched for insisting on their rights, or for minor violations of the racial caste system, like failing to step off a sidewalk to make way for a white person. The design is intended to convey scope but also, more ambitiously, to reshape a Southern landscape awash in Confederate symbols by asking each of those counties to claim a duplicate marker and erect the six-foot monolith on its home soil.

Stevenson has advocated fuller acknowledgment of the impact lynching had on African-Americans, both in terms of the trauma sustained and the concrete ways lynching disadvantaged communities. In some places, lynchings were accompanied by mob destruction of black business districts, adding economic devastation to sorrow. And African-Americans who migrated north or west to escape the threat of violence had to start over.

Many left social networks, homes and businesses, making it extraordinarily difficult for families to build intergenerational wealth. Among the most disturbing images were those of white children in the crowds, some with expressions of smug delight on their faces. That always has to be reckoned with, and we have to deal with that today.

The gruesome nature of lynchings, Ifill noted, was the main point; they were meant to haunt and intimidate, and to thus ensure the continuation of white supremacy. In some places, lynching memories suppressed black voter participation for decades. Washington — and her five siblings — wanted to get to the truth about their family long before they ever imagined returning to Oxford. When they were kids, their father was too angry to talk about his father at length, and other relatives spoke only hesitantly, if at all, about the killing. So the children spun their own stories, embroidering fragments of truth with scenarios lifted from movies and books.

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Over the years, the theories hardened into beliefs. Wright felt certain that someone — maybe her mother? Her brother, David Higginbottom, worried that his grandfather might have been murdered for having an interracial romance. But maybe somebody liked her and tried to get to her, and my grandfather tried to protect her.

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A few interested community members, black and white, trickled into the room to listen. Tyrone, a son of E.

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Grayson, who is white, grew up in Rolling Fork, Miss. In , a ringleader and former Klansman who had escaped justice, Edgar Ray Killen, was finally convicted and sentenced to 60 years for the crimes. Wright, who is 55, has a beautiful singing voice and an outgoing nature despite the grief she has experienced. Her first husband and her eldest son died young; the son was shot and killed before he turned Burke was there, too, in the form of a disembodied voice emanating from a phone speaker.

Grayson asked her to provide an overview of the lynching, and everyone turned to face a beige landline propped on a chair. From his home in Killeen, Tex. He scrutinized his father, a man who dropped out of school in seventh grade and picked cotton so his mother and siblings could eat, who fought in the Korean War and who for decades worked backbreaking jobs to support Morline Lowe, the Arkansas beauty he married in , and their children. The older man had removed his newsboy-style cap and sat apart from his daughters and grandchildren.

I thought, What would my heart feel right now? Higginbotham shared a three-bedroom house with his year-old wife, Melissa, and their three children. The youngest, Willie Wade, was still a baby. In the s, Oxford and the surrounding areas of Lafayette County remained, in many ways, hardly different from the time of Reconstruction.

Cotton reigned as the dominant crop. But change was afoot. Main streets gleamed with pavement rather than dirt.


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Men found work, even during the Great Depression, building a government-funded dormitory at the University of Mississippi campus, which remained segregated until James Meredith began attending in amid notoriously violent protests. Archival documents offer differing accounts of the killing, as is the case with many lynchings. Often newspapers document that a lynching occurred but otherwise prove unreliable. Reporters frequently omitted key facts or filed sensationalized tales of black criminality. Some explicitly sanctioned lynching, even going so far as to announce killings in advance.

Those facts began on the night of May 21, , months before Higginbotham was killed, according to an investigation by the Commission on Interracial Cooperation, an anti-lynching organization founded in Atlanta in Higginbotham and his wife, the commission reported, were in their bedroom that spring evening when a white farmer and neighbor named Glen Roberts arrived.

He had at least one other man, his brother, in tow, and according to other records, he was armed. Now Roberts wanted to whip him for it. When Higginbotham refused to open the door, Roberts broke down an exterior shed room with an ax. Then he chopped his way into the hallway. Higginbotham, the investigators wrote, warned Roberts to stop. Roberts crashed into the bedroom next, at which point Higginbotham shot and killed him. The gravity of that moment must have registered with Higginbotham immediately.

Roberts was a prominent member of the Oxford community: He enjoyed a reputation as a crack fox hunter, he played fiddle at local celebrations and he was white.

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Higginbotham fled, and the sheriff rallied hundreds of men to pursue him. Higginbotham evaded them for two nights before the searchers found him submerged in a creek across the county line. The search parties might have lynched Higginbotham right then and there, but the Pontotoc County sheriff sent him to Jackson, Miss. They left, boasting of having obtained a written murder confession from Higginbotham despite the fact that, according to census records, he could neither read nor write.

Although he had supposedly confessed, Higginbotham pleaded not guilty when he returned to Oxford three months later for trial on Sept. Melissa testified, an act that would have exposed her to possible retribution and that undoubtedly influenced her decision to leave. Hours later, the jury had yet to reach a verdict, and two jurors were rumored to be holding out for acquittal. What might have become a victory for Higginbotham and for the rule of law instead devolved into an extrajudicial killing.

Estimates put the crowd at as many as men. Anyone walking to or from the heart of town would have witnessed the lynching party. They would have seen the men force Higginbotham into a car and begin driving up North Lamar Boulevard. Higginbotham, one newspaper reported, stayed quiet during the ride. The men took the sharecropper out of the car, hanged him from a tree and shot him. She was still trying to grasp the meaning of everything she was learning.

This is what really happened? But there was one revelation she never tired of hearing about: that before his death, her grandfather might have been a labor activist. The image of her grandfather as a labor organizer, a man fighting for his people, made her think of Cesar Chavez. So did other things. He hated it; he felt smothered. I searched the state of Mississippi for 10 years trying to find the perfect tract of land that would fit my families needs.

Each tract I looked at there was something that didn't fit. I contacted Tom Smith. I explained to him what we were looking for and he smiled and said I'll find it. He changed the subject and asked me about my family, we talked about his family, we talked about hunting, business and several other things over the next hour. I was thinking he must not be very busy to take this much time with me.

Little did I know he sold more land in Ms. About a month later my wife and I met Tom to look at a tract of land. We loved what he had found. We looked at it several times before making an offer. Our offer was accepted and we finally found our perfect place. I told this story to let people that might read it to understand the attention that Tom pays to find you what your looking for and to emphasize Toms personable demeanor.

After a year had passed my wife and I decided to build a home on our new land. Again we contacted Tom Smith Land and Homes. Tom and his wife Ellen came over to our house and we discussed the selling our home. They looked around took several pictures and then sat down on front porch and we visited. Tom and Ellen are some of the friendliest people you will ever meet. It took 10 months to build our new home, I called Tom in month 8 of our construction and was ready to list our older home.

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