‘Never forget’: Town installs markers for lynching victims

Published 7:21 am Saturday, April 10, 2021

An angry mob of about 50 white, masked men stormed the Shelbyville jail in the early morning of Jan. 15, 1911. They broke the locks to the cells and dragged out three Black inmates.

Law enforcement failed to intervene despite persistent rumors that mob violence was to occur.

The three Black men were taken to a nearby train trestle over Clear Creek to be hanged. One was accused of assaulting a white woman. It was said another killed a Black woman and assaulted a white woman. The third reportedly had flirted with a 14-year-old white girl.

From 1878 to 1911, there were at least six lynchings in Shelby County. Between 1877 and 1934, the lynching of at least 186 Black people took place in Kentucky, according to data compiled by the University of Washington. Scholars say there probably were more, maybe more than 300.

Most lynchings involved hangings. But the word is used to describe when a mob kills someone for an alleged offense with or without a legal trial.

This weekend, Shelbyville will unveil the first set of historical markers in the state paid for by the Equal Justice Initiative to record publicly the racial injustice of lynchings.

The EJI, based in Montgomery, Ala., is a non-profit organization that provides legal representation to prisoners who may have been wrongly convicted of crimes, poor prisoners without effective representation and others who may have been denied a fair trial. It was founded in 1989 by civil rights defense attorney Bryan Stevenson. He was depicted in the 2019 movie “Just Mercy,” which was based on his memoir, “Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption.”

Kiara Boone, EJI’s deputy director of community education, said the Shelbyville markers will be the first in Kentucky as part of the organization’s Community Remembrance Project.

The project has dedicated more than 35 historical markers in more than 15 states throughout the country to victims of racial terror violence, Boone said.