By Clint Confehr
NASHVILLE, TN — Victims of lynching and racial terrorism were memorialized at Fisk University recently with prayers and dedication of a plaque naming three whose murders are documented with public records.
The Dec. 15, 1924 murder of Samuel Smith, 15, by a mob at Frank Hill Road — after being kidnapped from Metro General Hospital by masked men, as the “Nashville Banner” reported — is believed to be the last lynching in Davidson County.
“There may have been others, but there’s no public record,” says history professor Dr. Reavis Mitchell, dean of humanities at Fisk, and chairman, Tennessee Historical Commission. Other documentation of lynching might be in church records and “death notices in a colored newspaper about how someone died as a result of mass violence or at the end of a rope.”
Prominent residents condemned the 1924 mob, prompted a state investigation, and offered rewards for perpetrators who saw Smith as an accomplice to theft of spark plugs from the car of a merchant who was shot during the alleged crime, according to a seven-page account distributed at the plaque’s dedication.
Brothers Henry and Ephram Gizzard were lynched in April 1892; accused of assaulting white women, the seven-page account states. Arrested and jailed, Ephram was taken — as witnessed by thousands — by a mob after a gun battle with police guarding the jail. He was lynched from the Woodland Street Bridge. Henry was lynched near Mansker’s Creek Bridge by “a mob composed of the very best citizens,” the “Banner” reported.
During religious services Wednesday last week in Fisk University Memorial Chapel, the Rev. Nontombi Naomi Tutu, curate at Christ Church Cathedral, Episcopal, reflected on how city residents might forge a new covenant with God for protection in light of such atrocities.
“God cannot forgive our sins and iniquities, if we will not admit to our God that we have sinned,” Rev. Tutu told nearly 225 congregants.
“To claim that gift, we must come before the Lord as we are doing today and say, ‘Lord we raise up before you our brothers who were killed by those who would be described as good citizens of Nashville, Tenn. Lord we bring before you the Gizzard brothers and Samuel Smith and we say to you that truly their blood is on our hands and we come to you asking for forgiveness so that we may indeed dwell in the covenant that you have promised us.’”
Two officiants agreed nearly 70 percent of the audience “were anglo.”
Then, at St. Anselm’s Episcopal Church, “there was a dedication of the plaque remembering and honoring three men who we know of who were … lynched … as a result of hate or racism, as well as honoring those who are unknown,” but who suffered similar fates, said Rev. Rick Britton, rector of St. Ann’s Episcopal Church who led prayers “Reclaiming Hope Through Remembering” as provided by the Episcopal Diocese of Tennessee Task Force on Anti Racism in collaboration with David Lipscomb University Christian Scholars Conference.