At the request of Commissioner Rodney Ellis, the downtown placement of historical markers recognizing the four Harris County lynching victims was approved during Commissioners Court on Tuesday. The 5-0 vote approved four markers, one for each EJI-documented lynching victim in Harris County between 1877 and 1950. The markers will be located at Quebedeaux Park near the county courthouse system. The court previously voted to expand the park by converting adjacent property into a green space. Given its proximity to the courthouse, it serves as an ideal space to reflect on the injustice of racial terror.
For over a year, Commissioner Rodney Ellis and Harris County Precinct One have worked with local historians, academics and community members through the Harris County Remembrance Project to follow the process outlined by EJI to receive and place historical markers that recognize individual victims of lynchings identified in the 2014 EJI report, Lynching in America: Confronting a Legacy of Racial Terror. The Harris County Remembrance Project recognizes victims of lynching by collecting soil from lynching sites, erecting historical markers and placing memorials to acknowledge the horrors of racial injustice.
“This project is an opportunity for public education, reflection, and community engagement that acknowledges the history of racial terror and injustice that still haunts us today,” said Commissioner Rodney Ellis. “These are topics that are rarely acknowledged or discussed. Claiming this project for our community will open dialogue that has been suppressed for too long. Together, this initiative will materialize our common resolve to confront the challenges of racial inequality.”
The Equal Justice Initiative defines terror lynching as an extrajudicial act of racial terrorism motivated by the narrative of racial difference that involved killing African Americans by hanging, burning, mutilation, or other brutal assault by white mobs of three or more people for the purposes of terrorizing the victim and the entire African American community, with near complete impunity and no fear of legal recourse.
News articles and public records confirmed the documented lynchings in Harris County of John Walton, Bert Smith, John White, and Robert Powell.
Debra Blacklock-Sloan, a local historian and Remembrance Project committee member who was instrumental in starting the process with the Equal Justice Initiative said, “For too long, African-American history has been omitted, discounted and misremembered. The racial violence and terror that lynching victims John Walton, John White, Bert Smith and Robert Powell experienced was an atrocity and an injustice.”
“By memorializing the horrific lynchings of these four men, we acknowledge a few of the terrible injustices that the African American community has suffered,” said Harris County Judge Lina HidaIgo. “In confronting our past, we can continue to build a better future as the Harris County we strive to be: diverse, just, equitable, and unafraid to confront racial inequalities.”