The Lawrence/Douglas County Community Remembrance Project Coalition hopes to provide an avenue for community reconciliation with an often untold history as this week brings the 140th anniversary of the lynching of three Black men in Lawrence.
A three-day series of free events on the history of racial violence in Kansas will run Thursday through Saturday, June 9, 10 and 11.
In Lawrence, that violent history includes the lynching of Isaac King, George Robertson and Pete Vinegar. The three Black men were hanged from the Kansas River Bridge by a white mob on June 10, 1882.
The local CRP, an affiliate of the Equal Justice Initiative’s Community Remembrance Project, was formed in 2019 to address racial injustice throughout Lawrence and Douglas County’s history. Kerry Altenbernd, coordinator and liaison for CRP, encourages community members to be open to this type of discussion.
“Facing the shameful parts of our past is the only way that communities can heal the generational trauma that will be inherited by future generations if these things are allowed to go unacknowledged and unreconciled,” Altenbernd said.
The series of events will begin at 6:30 p.m. Thursday with a presentation from guest speaker Brent Campney, an author and professor of history at the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley. Campney will share research from his 2015 book, “This is Not Dixie: Racist Violence in Kansas: 1861-1927,” which exposes white supremacist violence in post-Civil War Kansas.
Campney was originally scheduled to speak in person, but his talk has been moved online. Those interested in attending can join the Zoom webinar at this link. The Lawrence Public Library will also project the webinar in the auditorium for those who would like to watch together there.
In 2021, the CRP organized a service and soil collection ceremony to mourn King, Robertson and Vinegar, as well as acknowledge the generational trauma caused by the lynching.
To commemorate the 140th anniversary, there will be a ceremony beginning at 7 p.m. Friday behind Lawrence City Hall. A historical marker will be dedicated in the area near where the lynching occurred. The ceremony will also be livestreamed at this link.
The marker was installed Tuesday afternoon. One side displays information about King, Robertson and Vinegar; the other side displays historical context about lynchings. The full text of that side reads:
“In 1861, after a violent struggle over whether to legalize slavery, Kansas entered the Union as a free state, and the false belief grew that the state welcomed free Black people. Following the end of the Civil War in 1865, white people sought to uphold an ideology of white supremacy and used fatal violence to reinforce racial subordination and segregation. By the end of Reconstruction in 1877, federal courts and Congress had abandoned enforcing laws to protect Black people. Lynching emerged as the most public and notorious form of racial terrorism, and these acts of terror against the Black community made clear that the state of Kansas was not immune to racially motivated violence. State and federal officials tolerated these lawless killings of Black people by failing to hold white mobs accountable for their crimes. During this era, white lives held heightened value and Black-on-white violence, including defense of other Black children, women, or men, could spark white rage, mob violence, and lynching. Black women and girls were killed in racial terror lynchings and also endured the racial terror of sexual violence by white men who were protected by a judicial system that enforced the view that Black girls and women had no legal protections against white men’s advances. Between 1865 and 1950 there were at least 23 documented racial terror lynchings in Kansas, with at least three known to have taken place in Douglas County.”
After the dedication event concludes at 8 p.m., guests are welcome to join an informal gathering at Potter’s Field at Oak Hill Cemetery.
On Saturday, the Watkins Museum of History will show the documentary film, “Then Three Were Taken: The True Story of an 1882 Lawrence, Kansas, Lynching,” with Executive Producer Barbara Wiggins-Dover. Both the 1 p.m. and 3 p.m. showings are at capacity, but Altenbernd said the film will be available on the museum’s YouTube channel for a limited time that afternoon.
With each event, the CRP hopes to guide the Lawrence and Douglas County community in education that leads to action.
“Reconciliation is not forgetting the past, it is us moving forward together as a community towards the truth,” Ursula Minor, president of the Lawrence, Kansas branch of NAACP, said in a news release.
The Watkins Museum of History is currently hosting an exhibit of all of CRP’s remembrance efforts, available through Aug. 19 on the second floor of the museum, called Confronting the Past: The Douglas County Community Remembrance Project.
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Note: This article has been corrected from a previous version.