Circuit Judge Mikaela Nix-Walker was at a loss for words.
Moments before she and her family took part in a soil collection ceremony in Waldo on Saturday, she listened to her father, Pastor John Nix of Rochelle, describe the history of his hometown where he still lives on the farm and cattle ranch purchased and established by his grandfather.
Nix painted a picture of serene life in Rochelle for the crowd of 75 people who gathered at the Veterans Memorial Park to take part in a reconciliation event prompted by the Waldo-Hawthorne-Campville-Rochelle Community Remembrance Project and supported by the Alachua County Remembrance Project and the National Memorial to Peace and Justice (NMPJ) in Montgomery, Alabama.
The NMPJ reports that more than 4,400 African American men, women and children were lynched, burned alive, shot, drowned or beaten to death by white mobs between 1877 and 1950.
Nix described his quaint town that peaked in population in the 1880s at about 175 people. Back then there was a hotel, two stores, a mill for grits, a sawmill plus two schools— one for whites and one for blacks. Nix acknowledged the division and why he was speaking at the ceremony commemorating five black males who were lynched.
“In order to go forward we have to always know where we come from,” Nix said. “We must mark the past so we know how far we have come.”
It was Alachua County Deputy Manager Rev. Carl Smart who came to the podium and recited the dark details of terror through lynching and explained why reconciliation is important.
Charles Wiley was killed on Jan. 12, 1894 in Rochelle by shooting, torture and being set on fire. Henry White was abducted from a train station in Campville on Dec. 13, 1913 and hanged from a nearby tree. George Buddington of Waldo was shot by a mob on Dec. 27, 1926 near Waldo. An unidentified man from Waldo was abducted from jail by a white mob on Dec. 5, 1889, and then they whipped him and shot him dead. And an unidentified black child from Waldo was lynched by a mob on Sept. 6, 1892.
Waldo Concerned Citizens of the Community President Joe Lipsey addressed the crowd and welcomed them to the city of Waldo.
“Your time spent with us today is one of acknowledgment of things that happened in the past that are going to be reconciled today,” he said.
In a candle lighting ceremony, Trina Green sang “Amazing Grace” as Monique Taylor, Kerry Dowd, and John Nix lit a candle for each of the five victims.
Commissioner Irvin Jackson, Minister Doug Green and Larry McDaniel then lead the soil collection ceremony making their way to add soil to jars labeled in honor of each victim.
Nix-Walker took note when she and her husband Shands Walker helped their 4-year-old son Dylan place soil in the jars presenting the lynching victim from her hometown.
After the ceremony, she said the experience for her was, “The feeling an abundance of healing and reconciliation going on. It wasn’t just about remembering lynchings, it was about community and commemorance.
“If you forget, history tends to repeat itself,” she said, adding that she hopes her son Dylan, “Will remember this for the rest of his life.”