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Learn about the history of lynching in Orange County

Manly McCauley's memorial is pictured above. Photo contributed by James Williams.

The Orange County Community Remembrance Coalition will hold a symposium on Saturday in collaboration with the Equal Justice Initiative to honor and remember the victims of lynchings in Orange County. 

Renee Price, an Orange County commissioner and co-chairperson of the coalition, said she hopes the symposium can start conversations about these lynchings, as many people may not know about them or choose not to talk about them. She said she thinks raising awareness to these historical events will additionally help promote cross-cultural understanding.

"What happened in the past affects the present and will affect our future," she said.

In Montgomery, Ala., the EJI has built a memorial for victims of lynching nationwide. It features over 800 columns of steel hanging from the ceiling at the National Memorial of Peace and Justice.

Each column represents one county in the United States where lynchings occurred. EJI provides duplicate steel pieces for counties that participate in an activity to remember the victims of lynching.

UNC professor Seth Kotch and Auburn University professor Elijah Gaddis started a website called "A Red Record" to compile documents of lynchings across North and South Carolina. The initiative attempts to identify the exact locations where they occurred and lists the names and dates of the victims.

"Publishing these names takes a small step toward recognizing their personhood in ways the public record does not," the website reads.

Horn said one of the most prominent lynchings that occurred in the county is of a Black man named Manly McCauley, which occurred in 1898. McCauley was accused of having a relationship with a white woman.

“I think that we still, as a nation and a region, have not come to terms with our own history," said Patrick Horn, associate director of the Center for the Study of the American South at UNC.

Horn said people usually attempt to dispute what is true regarding historical situations such as these lynchings, and it produces a heated argument on both sides.

“I think it would be helpful for all of us, in this region and country, if we could have a more honest reckoning with that history and really figure out what are the facts, and which facts do we need to make sure people remember,” Horn said.

Price and Horn both acknowledged how EJI has greatly inspired them to recognize and remember the county's lynchings through the symposium. They said they think EJI is doing the project because remembering lynchings all over the world will aid reconciliation and reflection of a time when racial terror and violence thrived. 

The symposium will be held at Hillsborough’s Passmore Center from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. The event will feature a performance by North Carolina Poet Laureate Jaki Shelton Green and different speakers, including historians and local students.

Price said she believes it is important for people in the county to be informed about these lynchings so as a community, they can acknowledge their occurrence. 

“We want to acknowledge those people that did have to suffer and had to be sacrificed just because of the color of their skin," Price said. "We want to honor the families that had to endure losing loved ones for no reason."


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