Lafayette County official questions 1 name on lynching memorial

Published 11:02 am Wednesday, December 9, 2020

Associated Press

An elected official in Mississippi says he doesn’t want to approve a memorial for seven Black people known to have been lynched in Lafayette County between 1885 and 1935 because one man on the marker was accused in a killing.

Lafayette County supervisors met Monday and delayed final approval of the marker, the Northeast Mississippi Daily Journal reported. The marker is proposed to go outside the county courthouse on the Square in Oxford, near a Confederate monument that has stood since 1907.

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Calls to remove the Confederate monument have intensified in recent months amid the national discussion over racial injustice, but the all-white Board of Supervisors have said the soldier statue will remain.

During a discussion Monday about the lynching memorial, one of the five supervisors, David Rikard, said he had concerns about the marker listing Lawson Patton, who was accused of killing a white woman in 1908. Rikard said Patton was “caught red handed” committing an “extremely violent” crime.

“I don’t want to memorialize anyone for doing a horrific act,” Rikard said.

Many lynching victims in the U.S. were Black people who were accused — sometimes falsely — of committing a violent crime.

Patton never went to trial because a white mob seized him from the Lafayette County Jail and lynched him. Patton was sometimes called Nelse Patton in documents. According to the New York Times’ 1908 account of the lynching, W.V. Sullivan, a former U.S. senator from Mississippi, led the lynch mob.

Lafayette supervisors in 2019 first heard a proposal for a lynching memorial and voted to send the memorial’s proposed language to the Mississippi Department of Archives and History for review. The resolution specified that supervisors retained final approval of the language.

The group wanting to place the marker on the courthouse lawn is the Lynching Memorialization in Lafayette County Committee, which has worked with the Equal Justice Initiative, a legal aid organization seeking to reshape the narrative around lynchings and acts of racial terror.

According to members of the memorialization committee, the state archives and history board has approved the marker’s language.

Rikard said he is not opposed to the marker being on the courthouse lawn, but he likely will not vote in favor of the marker if it includes Patton’s name.

April Grayson, a member of the memorialization committee and the director of the director of community and capacity building for the William Winter Institute for Racial Reconciliation, said the marker’s purpose is to speak to a “large issue that no one was given the due process of law.”

“I’m happy that the board is eager to continue discussing the marker,” Grayson told the Daily Journal.

She told supervisors that it’s unlikely the entire memorialization committee would agree to removing a name from the marker.

In 2019, Supervisor Chad McLarty said he had issues with language related to a different name on the marker. He and the committee worked together to resolve that.