I am from the suburbs outside Dallas, Texas. I have an incredible amount of pride in where I come from. I probably reference being from Dallas several times a day. Being a Texan is part of who I am, and I love that. However, I am not disillusioned to the history of my hometown or state of origin.
Last year, as a senior in high school, I took part in the Equal Justice Initiative's Community Remembrance Project in Dallas. The Community Remembrance Project is designed to recognize victims of lynching by collecting soil from lynching sites and erecting memorials. Orange County joined the initiative in October 2018.
We read and learned about Allen Brooks, an African-American man who was lynched in Dallas in 1910. After being accused of engaging in inappropriate conduct with a two-and-a-half-year-old white girl, he was taken to the Old Red Courthouse. Before he could stand trial, a mob dragged him out of the second floor of the building and lynched him. Thousands reportedly observed the event.
On a cold day in downtown Dallas, my class walked from the courthouse to the intersection where Allen Brooks was lynched. As someone in my class collected the soil for the Community Remembrance Project, all of us stood quietly. I recall how the city moved around us, seemingly unphased by the atrocity that had occurred there.
When I looked at the soil we collected from the lynching site, I saw a tangible connection to the past. I saw the history of racism that is so ingrained in Dallas and other similar cities, but standing in that place proved to me how important it is to remember these stories, even if they are hard to bear. These stories of race-based violence and terror do not exist in isolation; rather they are part of our cities, towns and communities. Forgetting or choosing to ignore these events further perpetuates racist ideologies. That is why the Community Remembrance Project is so important.
I am glad that Orange County has joined on to the EJI’s initiative to highlight stories of racial injustice across the United States. This serves as a moment for our community to understand how racism has existed here and to pay respect to lives lost to lynchings. While much of the conversation on race in Chapel Hill has been centered on Silent Sam lately, I believe the Community Remembrance Project adds dimension to the history of race relations in our community and provides a tool for people to understand the past. It is an important opportunity.
Dealing with these topics is not easy. It is much easier to ignore the horrors of the past and claim that ‘these things don’t happen anymore.’ But that is not just. The legacy of racism and division still exists in our communities. We all, together, have to own up to that.
Silent Sam may be gone, but there is still much work to do. This project, I hope, will further advance conversation and awareness that will promote truth, reconciliation and equality. If you say you love your community, take ownership and respect the history of that space. Only then can we heal and move forward, together.
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