Almost 20 years ago Dr. Patricia Hillard Nunn, founder of the Truth and Reconciliation Project, researched the infamous “Newberry 6” incident and brought it back into the local limelight.
The facts are grisly: an early-morning search warrant gone wrong, leading to gunfire and a white constable’s death. Local law enforcement then helped a white mob round up and execute six African Americans. One was gunned down and five others were lynched at the Newberry picnic grounds—with more than 200 people watching. No one was ever charged for their murders.
On Friday dozens of local residents gathered in the rain to remember the Newberry 6 and other lynchings under the oaks where they likely occurred. The City of Newberry, the Concerned Citizens of Newberry, the Rosewood Foundation and the Equal Justice Initiative (EJI) combined to organize the soil collection ceremony.
“All my life I heard whispers in bits and pieces among my family about the lynchings, never knowing the full facts until I was an adult” said E. Stanley Richardson, Alachua County’s poet laureate, who read a poem he wrote about the lynchings and how they changed his perception of trees.
Organizers set out two mason jars for each of the six victims on three tables, along with two nameless jars to honor unknown victims. Each table held jars for two victims, set between red candles and surrounded by broken shards of pottery to represent the shattered lives of the victims’ families.
As the song “Amazing Grace” played, descendants of the victims scooped soil from the site into the jars, followed by other attendees, until each jar was filled. One of each victim’s jars will be kept in Newberry as a memorial to their deaths, while the other jar will go to a memorial to lynching victims in Montgomery, Alabama.
Current Newberry Mayor Jordan Marlowe said the Newberry 6 were not alone: Other lynchings occurred at what became known as Lynch Hammock. A century ago Alachua County had the fifth highest per capita lynching rate in Florida—a state that ranked second nationally.
Other speakers at the event included Pastor Armon Lowery, Alachua Commissioner Charles Chestnut and Warren Lee, who spoke on behalf of the victims.
Keiana West, representing the Alabama-based EJI, spoke about its mission to memorialize all lynching victims. The organization has documented over 4,000 known incidents.
The EJI maintains a collection of jars filled with soil from the sites of over 3,000 lynchings, along with a black granite memorial in remembrance of all the victims.
“While we have this documentation, we believe this is just a fraction of the violent deaths inflicted on African Americans from 1865 to 1950 to intimidate and control them,” West said. “We want to make sure this history is not forgotten.”
To read more about the Newberry 6 and read E. Stanley Richardson’s complete poem, see Suzette Cook’s story from January.