Harris County Remembrance Project

"The Way to Right Wrongs is to Turn the Light of Truth on Them"
- Ida B. Wells

Racial injustice has been part of America's history from even before it became a country.

Harris County is no different. Harris County's history includes many instances of racial terror. Equal Justice Initiative (EJI) researched and documented over 4,400 African American victims of racial terror lynchings in twenty states across America from 1877 to 1950 in its 2014 report, Lynching in America: Confronting the Legacy of Racial Terror.  Four of those racial terror lynchings occurred in Harris County.

To recognize, remember and honor Harris County's four lynching victims, Commissioner Ellis formed the Harris County Remembrance Project in collaboration with the Afro-American Historical and Genealogical Society, Inc. - Willie Lee Gay H-Town Chapter, Friends of the African American Library at the Gregory School, and EJI. The goals of the committee are to (1) Erect historical marker for each of the four documented lynching victims in Harris County; (2) Collect soil from the lynching sites of the four documented lynching victims: Half of which will be stored in Houston's African American Library at the Gregory School and half in Montgomery, Alabama as part of an exhibit at EJI’s Legacy Museum; (3) Conduct two high school and middle school essay contests; (4) Install a public monument, which will be based on EJI's Memorial.

By erecting historical markers for the victims --  John Walton, Bert Smith, John White, and Robert Powell, Harris County is acknowledging the horrors of racial injustice while creating a space that will allow visitors to recognize the racial terror of the past, and realize the continued effects of discrimination on inequities and opportunity.

Although there were certainly other lynching victims and racial terror incidents during, before and after the period (1877 to 1950) covered by the report, EJI set the following criteria for their report:

  1. Required at least two news articles as primary documentation to confirm each lynching.
  2. Thoroughly researching cases in local newspapers, historical archives, and court records; interviews with local historians, survivors, and victims' descendants; and published reports in African American newspapers.
  3. Setting the starting point at the end of the Reconstruction in 1877, because at this point press in the South and newspaper documentation became reasonably reliable for counting lynchings.
  4. Setting the end point at 1950 because rates of lynchings decreased sharply as a result of greater reliance on capital punishments, which EJI refers to as a form of "legal lynching".

It is vital to the health of our community and our goal of equal justice for all people to recognize the importance of confronting and recovering from tragic histories of racial violence. Precinct One's hope is that this project will create greater awareness and understanding about racial terror lynchings, and begin a necessary conversation that advances truth and reconciliation.

Learn more about how the Harris County Remembrance Project is part of transforming an entire block of downtown Houston into Remembrance Park.