Renderings of a historical marker to be installed in Madison County that would memorialize lynchings that took place in Madison County during the late 1800s. Courtesy photo of Dr. Cindy Boyles

By Malorie Paine

JACKSON, TN — The Jackson Madison County Community Remembrance Project will continue trying to install a plaque that would memorialize three lynchings which took place in the late 1800s in Madison County. 

The JMCCRP is a partnership with the Equal Justice Initiative that consists of Madison County and Jackson citizens. The coalition is focused currently on installing the plaque, despite the plaque having been voted down at a Madison County Commission meeting in June. 

The plaque would provide information about the three known people and the events that took place on one side of the plaque, and on the other side, there would be information about lynchings that took place throughout America.

Dr. Cindy Boyles, JMCCRP project manager, said the plaque is meant to draw attention to the events so that others may research the events. The lynchings took place without due process, and it’s important to talk about that, Boyles said.

Though lynchings no longer take place, today’s society is still very much shaped by the historical inequalities that took place, she said.

“It impacts us today,” Boyles said. “In the United States, we’ve remained very silent about the impacts of slavery, the end of the Civil War, lynching and the Civil Rights Movement. Our silence really hasn’t worked for us. We may not have lynchings today, but we can clearly see the impacts of the lack of due process through mass incarcerations that we have today.”

Talking and learning about the events are the first step in the healing process, Boyles said.

“We tried to say if we don’t talk about it and we don’t look at it, and we put it under the rug, everything will get better, but everything has not gotten better,” Boyles said. “We still see racial divides between people, we still see economic and racial disparities between whites and African Americans and other minorities. If keeping quiet had worked, we really shouldn’t see any racial and economic disparity.”

The plaque would be funded through the EJI, Boyles said. This is part of a movement taking place across the South and other areas of the county, she said.

Dr. Liz Mayo, another JMCCRP member, said she was disappointed but not surprised that the Madison County Commission had voted against the installation at the County Courthouse. However, she feels the plaque is an important step in moving forward. Mayo said she was born and raised in West Tennessee, but did not learn about the lynchings that had taken place in Madison County until she was in graduate school at The University of Memphis.

“I’m a native West Tennessean, born and bred in this area, and this was not part of my K12 education,” Mayo said. “I wondered why did I not learn this when I was growing up. Why did it take me until graduate school to find this out?”

Mayo is an educator and says she makes it a point to talk about the history in her own classroom. 

“Students still in the South are not learning about the true history of what happened with lynch mobs in this region,” she said.

The plaque is important not just for remembrance but as a sort of recompense of the past to make amends, Mayo said.

“It’s also really powerful to say to someone ‘This happened to you, and I recognize it. We’re not going to bury it anymore and pretend it didn’t happen to your ancestors,” Mayo said.

Mayo believes it is her responsibility to acknowledge the past and work to change to future. She feels the historical plaque would be one way to begin that process.

“There’s a form of cultural gas lighting that occurs when we try to tell someone that racism is in the past and that it doesn’t matter anymore,” Mayo said. “Instead of doing that, if we own and say ‘You know what, my ancestors were awful to your ancestors, and I’m sorry for that. Even if I didn’t personally do it, I’m still benefitting from those things that occurred during those times and places that have kept underrepresented minorities down and have given me a leg up.’”

Mayo wants to see all people work together to change the trajectory of the future and move towards a less racist society through acknowledging and dealing with the past. 

The JMCCRP will work to determine other locations in Madison County that would also be appropriate for the historical plaque.