Margaret “Sis” Vinegar, like countless other Black girls and women of her day and beyond, never saw justice during her short life. But she is now memorialized in Lawrence’s history with a marker, dedicated in her honor Saturday evening.
Sis, a survivor of rape by a white man, was 14 when she just barely escaped a white mob with her life on June 10, 1882. Her father, Pete Vinegar, and two other Black men, Isaac King and George Robertson, however, were lynched for defending her.
“As a result, her community was terrorized for daring to challenge the white supremacist culture that allowed white men to have control over the bodies of Black women and girls,” said Michaela Clarke, currently with the Columbia University Justice Lab in New York and formerly with Equal Justice Initiative (EJI) in Montgomery, Alabama, in a statement read for her during the ceremony.
“During the era of enslavement, Black women and girls faced violence based on their sex and race. This unique experience of sex- and race-based terrorism continued to shape the lives in Black women and girls far beyond emancipation.”
A marker, provided as part of EJI’s “Lynching in America” project, was formally dedicated in Sis’ honor during a ceremony in Lawrence on Saturday evening — the 141st anniversary to the day of the lynching of Vinegar, King and Robertson. A marker near the Kansas River Bridge in Lawrence was formally dedicated to the three men on June 10, 2022.
Several dozen community members gathered at the Lawrence Public Library for the dedication ceremony in Sis’ honor, then proceeded to uncover and view the marker where it stands at Eighth and Kentucky streets.
Clarke, who couldn’t be physically present at the ceremony, worked with the Lawrence/Douglas County Community Remembrance Project Coalition to bring the missing piece of the story — what happened to Sis — to light. She was also instrumental in pushing for the EJI to include it in the project. The rape of a young, Black girl and the racial violence she experienced in 1882 Lawrence speaks to the way in which Black women and girls have historically experienced sexual violence both because of their race and gender, simultaneously.
A white farmer in his mid-40s named David Bausman, who had raped Sis, was found dead, his body floating in the Kaw River. The three men were arrested, and a mob of white Lawrence citizens came after them, breaking them out of the Douglas County jail. The mob ultimately lynched Vinegar, King and Robertson from the Kansas River bridge.
Sis was twice wrongly convicted by all-white juries in 1883 of the murder of Bausman. She was 20 years old when she died of tuberculosis in prison in Lansing. No one was ever held responsible for the acts of violence against Sis nor against the three men.
Jennifer Ananda, executive director of the Sexual Trauma and Abuse Care Center, said we know that historically, and still today, sexual violence has been used to further marginalize and terrorize minoritized communities, “including and especially Black women, which is the reason that we are here today.”
“Too often, we fail to adequately respond when sexual violence is used as a tool for oppression, and we punish those who can’t seek their own justice when systems and communities continuously fail to protect them,” Ananda said. “We punish those who seek the only resolution they can see available to them.”
Sierra Two Bulls (Oglala Lakota), leader of the Indigenous Community Center, shared about the work ICC’s local Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women, Girls, Two-Spirit and Trans (MMIWG2ST) chapter is doing to spread awareness and stop the crisis of missing and murdered Indigenous peoples.
Citing Black and Indigenous solidarity, Two Bulls said allyship is vital to social change.
As part of the ceremony, Annette Dabney, Lawrence Public Schools speech language pathologist; Amber Sellers, Lawrence city commissioner; and Ursula Minor, president of the Lawrence Branch NAACP took turns reading aloud the text written on Sis’ marker.
One aspect of the story highlighted in the text is that of local media’s roles.
The text points out that a Lawrence newspaper made false reports and condoned violence against Black people. It characterized Sis as a “prostitute,” rather than a child who was raped, enforcing and reenforcing stereotypes of Black women and girls.
After Sis was convicted, a “local newspaper in Lawrence celebrated” it, the text reads.
Douglas County District Court Judge Mark Simpson also spoke to another institution — the justice system.
He put accountability on courts and other legal systems for the criminalization of Sis and people like her, and he encouraged Lawrence to face the city’s history head-on.
Mimi Stephenson and Kaitlynn Sedich, student leaders of the Lawrence NAACP Youth Council, shared about the newly revived youth chapter of the NAACP during the ceremony. The pair also led the official unveiling of the marker, located at Eighth and Kentucky streets, after the conclusion of the ceremony.
During their speech, they commented on the power young people have to dictate the future.
“[Sis’] incarceration took away any opportunity from her as she was stripped from her autonomy in more ways than one,” Stephenson said. “The injustice that she experienced was far from abnormal, but her story marks an era where people were scared to speak out against the ruling and injustice.”
“We, as the youth branch of the NAACP, want to ensure people of Margaret’s age have equitable opportunities across Lawrence, regardless of race, age, gender or any societal implication that could hold them back,” Sedich added.
Before leading attendees in singing the Black National Anthem, “Lift Ev’ry Voice and Sing,” near the end of the ceremony, State Rep. Barbara Ballard set the tone.
“This was inspiring, but it was heartbreaking,” Ballard said. “When you hear a story, and then you hear all the facts, then you realize the story is worse than you could ever imagine. And I had to make those comments before I could ask you to join me in singing what we call our Negro National Anthem.”
Kerry Altenbernd, coordinator of the Lawrence/Douglas County Community Remembrance Project Coalition, left attendees with lasting words followed by saying Vinegar, King and Robertson’s names aloud before finally saying Sis’ name.
Attendees joined along, speaking life into their names and their stories and promising they’d never be forgotten.
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Molly Adams (she/her), photojournalist and news operations coordinator for The Lawrence Times, can be reached at molly (at) lawrencekstimes (dot) com. Check out more of her work for the Times here. Check out her staff bio here.
More coverage: Lawrence/Douglas County Community Remembrance Project
The Lawrence City Commission voted Tuesday to approve 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.
A city board on Thursday voted in favor of 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.
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.