Soil recently collected from near where three Black men — Pete Vinegar, Isaac King and George Robertson — were lynched in Lawrence on June 10, 1882 will serve as the latest memorial of one of the community’s darkest days.
The Lawrence/Douglas County Community Remembrance Project Coalition, which has worked in recent years to document and properly remember Vinegar, King and Robertson, will host a ceremony at 10 a.m. Saturday, Oct. 9, under the Kansas River bridge near City Hall.
In September, employees of Bowersock Mills & Power Company collected soil, which has since been drying to prepare it for placement in jars that will be permanently memorialized at the National Memorial for Peace and Justice in Montgomery, Alabama.
The national memorial is a project of the Equal Justice Initiative’s Community Remembrance Project, which seeks to document roughly 4,400 African American victims of racial terror lynchings from 1877 until 1950. Lawrence’s NAACP chapter joined forces with EJI in 2019 to research and memorialize the 1882 lynchings.
Vinegar, King and Robertson were hanged and thrown from the Kansas River bridge in the early morning hours after the body of David Bausman, a white man in his mid-40s, was found drowned. Bausman was alleged to have been having sex with Vinegar’s 14-year-old daughter. The three men were lynched by a town mob without a trial and buried in unmarked graves.
A chance find at Lawrence City Hall in February gave the first indication in 138 years as to where the men were buried when the city clerk’s office discovered a chart of cemetery plots tucked inside a book of decades-old county bond registers. Ground surveys to pinpoint Vinegar, King and Robertson’s exact gravesites in correlation with the chart began in July.
Speakers at Saturday’s ceremony will include:
- Rev. Verdell Taylor Jr., of St. Luke African Methodist Episcopal church
- Ursula Minor, Coalition chair and president of Lawrence’s NAACP chapter
- Kerry Altenbernd, local historian and Coalition chair
Representatives of the Lawrence Black community will fill gallon-sized glass jars with soil for permanent placement in the National Memorial for Peace and Justice and Watkins Museum of History, the Coalition said in a press release.
The ceremony can be accessed by driving along the gravel road on the north side of Sixth and Kentucky Streets. Signage will be posted, and limited parking is available at the site. Social distancing and masking guidelines will be in effect.
For more information, contact Minor at 785-766-1482 or firstname.lastname@example.org, or Altenbernd at 785-840-8029 or email@example.com.
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“On that Saturday morning by the Kansas River, as soil was scooped into glass jars and carnations placed on top of each, a spirit moved among the crowd. They had gathered there, near Lawrence City Hall, to commemorate the victims of a lynching nearly 140 years ago,” Clay Wirestone writes in this column for Kansas Reflector.
Though a final answer is likely still a few months away, work began Monday to solve a question that originated just over 139 years ago: where are the three Black men lynched in Lawrence in the summer of 1882 buried? One Kansas researcher is using ground penetrating radar technology to find out.
Conner Mitchell (he/him), reporter, can be reached at cmitchell (at) lawrencekstimes (dot) com or 785-435-9264. If you have sensitive information to send Conner, please email connermitchell (at) protonmail (dot) com. Read more of his work for the Times here.