Lawrence Historic Resources Commission to consider marker in honor of Margaret ‘Sis’ Vinegar

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A city board on Thursday will consider a plan to place a historical marker in honor of Margaret “Sis” Vinegar, a young Black woman who, at age 14 in 1882, survived a sexual assault by a white man but died in prison at age 20 after being wrongly convicted of the man’s murder.

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Kerry Altenbernd, of the Lawrence/Douglas County Community Remembrance Project Coalition, summarized her story in the agenda materials for the Lawrence Historic Resources Commission’s Thursday meeting:

“Margaret Vinegar, known as “Sis”, was the 14-year-old daughter of Peter Vinegar whose sexual assault by David Bausman, a white farmer, led to the man’s death and the subsequent lynching of Isaac King, George Robertson, and the elder Vinegar from the Kansas River Bridge in Lawrence on June 10, 1882, by a large mob of Lawrence citizens.

“With no one else left to hold responsible for the death of Bausman, local authorities put Margaret Vinegar, who had escaped being the fourth lynching victim that June night by a single vote of the mob, on trial for murder. She was declared guilty of murder in Bausman’s death and incarcerated in the Kansas State Penitentiary in Lansing where she died of Tuberculosis at the age of 20.”

King, Robertson and Pete Vinegar are memorialized on a marker placed near Lawrence City Hall and the Kansas River. It was sponsored by the Equal Justice Initiative and dedicated in June 2022. The EJI, based in Montgomery, Alabama, provides historical markers at no cost to communities where any of the more than 4,400 documented racial terror lynchings occurred between 1877 and 1950 in the U.S.

The marker for the three who were lynched tells the story of racist violence that white mobs perpetrated against people of color in Lawrence and Douglas County. However, “Left out of that story is the sexual violence and abuse of women of color by members of the dominant society in Kansas and the unwillingness of the powers that be to address those heinous actions or do anything to stop or prevent them,” Altenbernd wrote.

“In Margaret’s case, not only was she victimized, but those who were attempting to protect her from sexual abuse paid with their lives for doing so, and afterward, she was again victimized, this time by the powers that be, in a system that treated her as a second class citizen, both for her gender and for her race.”

“Sis” Vinegar’s story still needs to be told.

“The Equal Justice Initiative thought her story so important that they offered to have a separate marker made to tell her story,” Altenbernd said via email. “We agreed and it is sitting in the Grover Barn in Lawrence waiting for approval and installation.”

The HRC during its meeting Thursday evening will consider approving the marker and its proposed location, near Eighth and Vermont streets on the city-owned property where the Senior Resource Center for Douglas County sits, 745 Vermont St. The site is near where the courthouse was located at the time of Sis’ murder conviction, near Eighth and Kentucky streets, but the memo in the agenda says that site could be problematic.

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“There is no other location that allows for the marker to be placed in its historical context and still be easily accessed by the public and provide an aesthetic and a contemplative experience for viewers; therefore, (745 Vermont St.) is the ideal site for installation of the Margaret ‘Sis’ Vinegar marker,” Altenbernd wrote in the memo to the HRC.

Megan Poindexter, executive director of the SRC, wrote a letter of support for the project and the location.

“All too often, women of all ages, throughout the ages — especially Black women and others of non-European descent — have been treated as second (or third) class citizens, without personal choice, body autonomy, basic human rights, or even simple dignity,” Poindexter wrote. “The story of Margaret Vinegar clearly demonstrates this horrific reality. It is good and right that we have recognized the murder of Margaret’s father Peter along with George Robertson and Isaac King. But it is also important to recognize the great injustice which compounded the vicious assault experienced by Margaret, the initial victim in the tragic series of events.”

She wrote that if the city chooses that location, “I will feel somber humility and gratitude each day that I look out our window at its placement.”

The HRC is set to meet at 6 p.m. Thursday, April 20 at Lawrence City Hall, 6 E. Sixth St. See the full meeting agenda at this link. See more about this agenda item at this link.

The meeting will also be available via Zoom; register to participate at this link. Meetings are also livestreamed on the city’s YouTube channel.

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More coverage: Lawrence/Douglas County Community Remembrance Project

Lawrence Historic Resources Commission to consider marker in honor of Margaret ‘Sis’ Vinegar

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A city board on Thursday will consider a plan to place a historical marker in honor of Margaret “Sis” Vinegar, a young Black woman who, at age 14 in 1882, survived a sexual assault by a white man but died in prison at age 20 after being wrongly convicted of the man’s murder.

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Mackenzie Clark (she/her), reporter/founder of The Lawrence Times, can be reached at mclark (at) lawrencekstimes (dot) com. Read more of her work for the Times here. Check out her staff bio here.

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