By Alyssa Schnugg
On the 86th anniversary of the lynching of Elwood Higginbottom, a Lynching Memorialization marker was placed on the east side of the Lafayette County Courthouse.
Under gray skies and drizzle, members of the Lynching Memorialization in Lafayette County Project committee and other community members gathered to unveil the marker that notes the seven known instances of lynching in the county.
Local jazz singer Effie Burt started the brief ceremony with her rendition of “Strange Fruit.”
Don Cole, a retired professor and administrator from the University of Mississippi, said the morning ceremony was a solemn occasion of mixed emotions.
“This plaque is a dedication and memorial to those whose lives are reflected and their incomprehensible, brutal and violent end, and for reasons we’re not able to fully comprehend,” he said. “This dedication is a must happen event and no single ceremony can appropriately cast its significance …
“Today, we take away the realization that this is only a partial list. We take away sincere gratitude for a citizen-government partnership that made this dedication possible … We take away a continued effort to eradicate the humanistic divide that resulted in such a tragedy. We take away an appreciation of a much better America – not perfect, but a much better American that we wished existed before their demise.”
One side of the marker lists six of the men who were lynched in Lafayette County and the details surrounding the lynchings: Harris Tunstal, killed July 12, 1885; William McGregory killed Nov. 13, 1890; “unknown victim” killed Sept. 2, 1891; William Steen killed July 30, 1893; William Chandler killed June 19, 1895; Lawson Patton killed Sept. 8, 1908.
The other side of the marker speaks on lynchings in the United States and the history of Higginbottom’s death, who was killed on Sept. 17, 1935, at the age of 28 while he was being held in the Oxford jail for the murder of landowner Glen Roberts.
In 2019, the Lafayette County Board of Supervisors approved the project on the condition that the Mississippi Department of Archives and History approved the placement since the Courthouse is a historic site. In January of this year, the Board approved the final wording of the marker.
A larger dedication ceremony was originally scheduled for next week; however, organizers said that due to COVID-19, the smaller ceremony was scheduled for today and that a larger one may take place in the future.
The marker is paid for by the Equal Justice Initiative.
The work of the Lynching Memorialization in Lafayette County Project is being done as part of the “Community Remembrance Project,” which is a national lynching memorialization effort launched by the Equal Justice Initiative in Montgomery, Alabama.