Edith Guffey: Systemic disregard for Black people’s humanity is deeply woven into our culture (Column)

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Note: The Lawrence Times runs opinion columns and letters to the Times written by community members with varying perspectives on local issues. These pieces do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the Times staff.

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The Free State struggle, Quantrill’s Raid — these are the stories of Lawrence that we know; the stories that are repeated over and over. They are part of the historical foundation that define and shape our progressive and forward-thinking psyche as Lawrencians. But there are stories that are also part of the historical foundations of Lawrence that aren’t told and have never been fully acknowledged. 

One might think they have been conveniently forgotten or maybe even hidden. Perhaps the failure to tell these stories rests in their honesty. These stories tell a much more complex history of Lawrence. Or maybe the continued failure to acknowledge this history is illustrative of a painful reality: the callous and systemic disregard for Black people’s humanity that is deeply woven into the history and culture of this country and in Lawrence.

There is a group that is saying it is time to tell the truth; it’s time to tell a more accurate story about the history of Lawrence. You may have read about the Community Remembrance Project (CRP) that has been initiated by Kerry Altenbernd and Ursula Minor, president of the Lawrence NAACP. It has now expanded to a full communitywide project. The Lawrence/Douglas County CRP is working in partnership with Equal Justice Initiative (EJI) to tell the story and memorialize the three men who were lynched in Lawrence in 1882, Pete Vinegar, George Robertson and Ike King. Read more about the CRP here

The website of the Equal Justice Initiative notes that the goal of the CRP is to memorialize documented victims of racial violence throughout history AND to foster meaningful dialogue about race and justice today. In Douglas County, the CRP also wants to do both. Although there have already been activities that are aimed at educating and memorializing the lynching, there will be more. 

At 10 a.m. on Saturday, Oct. 9, the CRP will hold a memorial for those who were lynched. The event will be held near the site of the lynching, under the Kansas Bridge on the south side of the river. 

Lawrence is approaching a milestone: the 140-year anniversary of the lynching. The Coalition encourages all of Lawrence, our schools, faith communities, businesses, and families to use this year in particular to learn more about this history of racial violence. 

But that is not enough. This is an opportunity for the City of Lawrence and all of Douglas County to take this upcoming year to not only dig deep and explore our history, but also to connect the dots. Although separated by 140 years, the racial violence of 1882 is not disconnected from the systems of racial oppression and white supremacy that continue to flourish in our criminal justice, education, healthcare, housing — all of the systems that are foundational in this community. 

Now is the time to ask the hard questions and to refuse to fall prey to the illusion of the blue dot progressive mentality that all is well. This work is needed now more than ever. Truth telling about the past makes a different future possible. Let’s work together for a future that is equitable and just. 

Check this website monthly for events and information to assist and participate in a year of learning about racial justice not just past, but present, and into the future. 

— Edith Guffey is Conference Minister for the Kansas-Oklahoma Conference, United Church of Christ.

More coverage:

Clay Wirestone: At memorial for Lawrence lynching victims, a crowd faces history head-on (Column)

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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.

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