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: