Saturday, August 24, 2019

Group seeks approval to add lynching marker in the Plaza. (SAR, George Gardner's St. Augustine Report, First Coast News)

I support the request to erect the historic marker on the 1897 lynching of Isaac Barrett. We need to tell all of our history, "warts and all," as Lincoln would say, to promote healing and justice in our town.

Group seeks approval to add lynching marker in the Plaza
By Sheldon Gardner
Posted Aug 23, 2019 at 7:20 PM
St. Augustine Record

It was 1897 in St. Johns County when a mob hanged Isaac Barrett from a tree near the St. Johns River.

Barrett was accused of severely beating the man he worked for and the man’s family, and two people died. He was arrested and was being taken to the county judge when the mob took him, The New York Times reported.

Barrett signed a confession after he was captured by the mob. But, as was the case with other African-Americans in that era, whether he was truly guilty will never be known because he never made it to court, said Gayle Phillips, who wants Barrett’s story to be told.

Phillips, director of the Lincolnville Museum and Cultural Center, and others in the community want a marker about the lynching of Isaac Barrett to be placed in St. Augustine’s Plaza de la Constitucion.

“I think it is a great opportunity for the city to own up to its past,” she said.

The City Commission is expected to consider the proposal Monday. City regulations limit the subject of new markers in the Plaza to significant events that happened before Feb. 22, 1981, or to people who participated in the civil rights movement.

Phillips said she sees Barrett’s story as part of the civil rights struggle.

According to the application materials filed by Phillips, the marker would highlight an era of “vigilante justice which led to the lack of due process for thousands of citizens who were wrongfully accused and subjected to mob rule without as much as a public hearing before a court of law.”

It would help heal race relations in addition to providing education, according to her application.

Phillips is part of the local committee that has organized the local marker effort. The committee is part of the Community Remembrance Project by the Equal Justice Initiative, a nonprofit focused on fighting injustice and mass incarceration. The project highlights racial injustice, in part by having markers erected to remember lynching victims.

One effort of the nonprofit organization “documented more than 4,400 racial terror lynchings in 12 Southern states — and more than 300 in eight states outside the South — between the end of Reconstruction in 1877 and 1950,” according to the EJI website.

In 2018 in advance of a ceremony, the nonprofit and members of the community placed a different Barrett marker close to where he was killed off State Road 13. But the marker went missing shortly after that, forcing the group to erect a temporary sign for its ceremony.

The Equal Justice Initiative provided a new marker, and community members developed a new plan. The Plaza was chosen because of its security, prominence and history — civil rights demonstrations and racial violence took place there, and slaves were whipped, bought and sold there, according to a letter to city commissioners from the local committee.

The letter reads: “There is no place in the city of St. Augustine that brings our community together like the Plaza de la Constitucion. ... What better place to proclaim our acknowledgement of a darker time in our civil rights history while celebrating a unified message of ‘never again?’”

Evan Milligan, Equal Justice Initiative program manager, sent a letter to commissioners about the proposal for the Plaza. He wrote that public markers can help spark conversations that educate and empower people in the community.

“We believe the process of memorializing victims long ignored by history is most appropriate when it unfolds in public spaces, as racial terrorism was specifically facilitated in public spaces and was often ignored by public institutions charged with preventing or investigating these acts,” he wrote.

The application to the Commission says the community needs healing in race relations.

Jaime Perkins, a former candidate for Florida House District 17 and a West Augustine resident, said in a previous interview she has never felt totally comfortable coming downtown. She has experienced racial discrimination in the city, she said.

Perkins, who has attended some meetings related to the Barrett marker, said she supports the effort to put the marker in the Plaza.

From George Gardner's St. Augustine Report:

Plaza historic marker sought
for victim of 1897 lynching
   The City Commission Monday will hear a request to place "a historic marker in the plaza regarding the lynching of Isaac Barrett."
   The regular commission meeting begins at 5 pm in the Alcazar Room at City Hall and is live streamed on CoSA.TV
   Gayle Phillips, Lincolnville Museum Director and member of the Community Remembrance Committee, will make the presentation.
   Phillips states in her marker placement application it "fills the historical gap between the civil war and civil rights movement.
   "Although Isaac Barrett was hanged near the St. Johns River, all newspaper datelines from June 1897 read St. Augustine, FL.       "This marker can be used as a teaching tool on this dark period of our history with the intent to bring about greater understanding of past racial terrorism and promote greater diversity and equity of all people in our community.
   "It is not meant to divide, but to promote unity through education on why we should avoid returning to ideals of a segregated society."
   Barrett was lynched June 5 1897 in Orangedale, the only reported lynching in St. Johns County. Barrett worked for the Hewson family and allegedly attempted to murder the family and assault the daughter.
   "While officers were transporting Mr. Barrett to the local magistrate, a mob of twelve armed, masked white men abducted him in the Orangedale area and hanged him from an oak tree along the riverbank in a nearby wooded area," according to a Community Remembrance Committee media release.
   A county marker, placed on Shands Pier Road in St. Johns just off State Road 13, was stolen before its unveiling ceremony last year. The ceremony went on with a temporary marker, Phillips saying at that event, "We shall not be moved, our stories will be told, our dialogue will continue, our reconciliation and healing will prevail."


History's Highlight
Isaac Barrett
   Account reported by First Coast News
   Gayle Phillips and Mary Cobb, along with a few others, have worked to unravel the story behind this hanging of Isaac Barrett.
   He was a tenant farmer for the Hewson family with two young children and a girl of eighteen named Maggie. 
   "His initial story was that he went to the aid of the family who was in distress and had been beaten and bloodied by some unknown assailant," Phillips said.
   She said the sheriff arrived and found Barrett with the beaten landowners, and the sheriff ended up arresting Barrett.
   "On the way to the jail, a mob of masked men stole him away from the sheriff and took him to the river and hung him from a tree," Phillips said - a tree on some land that researchers believe is close to the public park by the Old Shands Bridge Pier.
   "The nearby African American people were very upset with what happened because he was a hard worker and they thought the way it was done was very brutal," Cobb said.
   According to the Equal Justice Initiative, Barrett's is one of 313 reported lynchings in Florida; there could be more that weren't reported. The organization opened a museum in April 2018. It's a memorial to the more than 4,000 people who were lynched in the U.S. from 1877 to 1950.
   "A lynching is a public killing," Phillips noted. "It doesn't have to be by hanging. People were shot, burned, mutilated. It was usually done in a public way to create a sense of fear."
   We don't know how old Barrett was and we certainly don't know if he was even guilty of the crime.
   "The lynch mob became his judge and jury," Phillips said.
   She and her colleagues applied to St. Johns County for a marker at the park by the Old Shands Bridge Pier "so that people will know what happened close to that spot.
   "For the most part, people don't want to tell about this part of American history, but it is as much a part of our history as any," Phillips said.
   Photo: Temporary marker on Shands Pier Road

No comments: