Saturday was a hot and humid day at St. Mark’s Baptist Church Cemetery, but the weather didn’t stop people from attending the “Lynch Hammock” Gravesite Remembrance.
Late Saturday morning, people filed into rows of chairs to honor the lives and memories of Manny Price Brooks, 9, and Robert Suggs, 11.
Brooks and Suggs were playing in a field when they were wrongfully accused of slaughtering cattle. The boys were taken to Newberry and publicly lynched in 1902. The tragedy marked the earliest lynching that occurred at “Lynch Hammock.”
“There is an importance of remembering our history and honoring those whose lives were lost in the struggle for freedom in this country,” Dr. Kenneth Nunn said.
Sherry Sherrod DuPree led the memorial event, which featured music, prayer, poems, and a grand unveiling of a Black History Stone.
Nii Sowa La performed the drum call and libation, an African tradition of pouring a liquid as an offering in memory of those who passed. Ashley Hill sang, “His eye is on the sparrow,” and Kali Blount sang, “Strange Fruit.”
Herbert C. DuPree and E. Stanley Richardson—Alachua County’s poet laureate—both read poems for those in attendance.
Newberry had the largest known mass lynching in Florida history in 1916. Six, possibly more, black individuals lost their lives in what is known today as the Newberry Massacre.
Last year members of the community gathered in Newberry for a soil collection ceremony, after which one of the jars of soil went to the National Memorial for Peace and Justice in Montgomery, Alabama.
“I think that every time we have the opportunity to uncover an injustice of the past and to say we are sorry to the descendants of that family, the importance can’t be measured,” said Newberry Mayor Jordon Marlowe, an active participant in the Truth and Reconciliation Project since Dr. Patricia Hillard Nunn founded it two decades ago. “The importance of the family, the importance of the community, the ability to say we are sorry, and the ability to uncover this history and discuss it is incalculable to our ability to work together into the future.”
The new Black History Stone is on Brooks’ grave at St. Mark’s Baptist Church Cemetery off State Road 27 in Half-Moon, Florida. The location of Suggs’ body is still unknown.
The stone is in memory of the two boys and the hidden history that is now available to the public.