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Editorial (KPNS) Acknowledging the past vital for the future

"The end of the Civil War and the emancipation of former slaves was just the beginning in the quest for equality for all. Many fought to preserve the racial status quo, with lynchings as the brutal enforcement tool of white supremacy." from EDITORIAL, Below
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Editorial from Bowling Green Daily News (KPNS)
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There are aspects of our history that are worth publicly celebrating; others are unpleasant but nonetheless need to be likewise remembered.

Such is the case with the nation's legacy of racial violence manifested locally in dozens of lynchings in southcentral Kentucky in the 19th and 20th centuries.

The end of the Civil War and the emancipation of former slaves was just the beginning in the quest for equality for all. Many fought to preserve the racial status quo, with lynchings as the brutal enforcement tool of white supremacy.

According to historian George C. Wright, there were at least 353 lynchings between 1865 and 1940 in Kentucky, with at least 31 lynching victims in southcentral Kentucky during the period. One of the most notorious cases occurred in Russellville in 1908.

An African-American man named Rufus Browder was arrested and charged with killing a white man. After mobs were unsuccessful in lynching Browder, who was first hidden in an African-American cemetery overnight and then taken out of the county, a lynch mob targeted four African-American men instead: brothers John Jones and Virgil Jones, Joe Riley and John Boyer. Their "crime" was being supporters of Browder.

At 1 a.m. Aug. 1, 1908, an armed mob of about 50 men stormed the jail where the four men were held on a variety of charges, and removed them with their hands tied behind their backs. They were marched to a nearby cedar tree and lynched, one by one.

Rather than let that history die, the West Kentucky African American Heritage Center in Russellville has kept the story alive with a powerful display featuring information about the 1908 lynching and the numerous others in the community.

Now the museum is working to get a historical marker regarding the lynchings erected in Russellville through the Equal Justice Initiative. Earlier this year, that organization opened The National Memorial for Peace and Justice in Montgomery, Ala., to help remember at least 4,400 individuals who lost their lives in lynchings and other racial killings between 1877 and 1950.

The West Kentucky African American Heritage Center lynching exhibit was put together by Russellville native and museum historian and director Michael Morrow, who said he knew retelling the story of local lynchings would be controversial, but "It had to be told," he said. "Some people don't want to talk about it, but once you take the (secrecy) out of it, it takes the load off."

Likewise, Joe Gran Clark, chair of Historic Russellville Inc., said of the effort to get a historical marker that "We hope the community will see it in a positive light. Until you know this history, it's hard for people to reconcile. We want to use it for, hopefully, a healing process."

We agree that the effort to remember such atrocities is a necessary part of any reconciliation process and meaningful dialogue about race relations. It is only by acknowledging the past - the good and the bad - that we can move forward into the future.

This story was posted on 2018-08-17 07:52:09
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