LAGRANGE, GA – February 23, 2017 – The community group Troup Together announced that this West Georgia city will soon take another major step to address historic racial injustices. In March faith leaders from across the city will join in two unprecedented memorial services for victims of lynching in Troup County’s history.
In late January, city and police officials made a public apology for the LaGrange Police Department’s role in the lynching of an African American man named Austin Callaway here in September 1940. It was one of the few public apologies ever made in the United States for a lynching. Researchers believe it may have been the first ever made by a local police official.
On March 18, 2017, a diverse group of local faith leaders will also directly address the lynching in a first-of-its-kind service of remembrance. Participants will acknowledge and lament the lynchings of Callaway and three other African-American men in Troup County. The service will begin at 1 PM at Warren Temple United Methodist Church, 416 East Depot Street in LaGrange.
It is open to the public. Family members are expected to attend. So is Mayor Jim Thornton.
In September 1940, a band of men removed Callaway from the city jail, shot him repeatedly and left him to die on a rural road outside LaGrange. The police and city never sought justice. A few weeks later, a leading pastor in the African American community, Reverend Louie W. Strickland, said, “They have settled the matter by ignoring it.”There were few calls for an investigation from white religious leaders at the time. Local news coverage was minimal.
According to host pastor and Troup Together member Rev. Vincent Dominique, the service will also celebrate Strickland’s courage in the face of injustice. A permanent marker remembering Callaway and other victims of lynching and honoring Strickland will be unveiled outside the church at the end of the service. Nearly 600 racial terror lynchings took place in Georgia between 1877 and 1950, but only a few Georgia cities have placed markers. (See www. eji.org ) At a sunrise prayer vigil on March 19, faith leaders will read the names of all known victims of racist terror lynchings in Georgia. Researchers believe such a recitation has never taken place here. Rev. Dominique said this act will help end the silence around lynchings in the state’s past and help communities and families heal. He said, “Every life is precious to God. As we read these names, we recommit ourselves to seeing all people with the same mercy and compassion.” The vigil will take place at Southview Cemetery on Hamilton Road in LaGrange, beginning at 7 AM. The public is invited to attend.
Warren Temple United Methodist Church, Troup Together, the Equal Justice Initiative, the Troup County NAACP and the Family of Austin Callaway are co-sponsoring these events as steps toward healing in the community. Troup Together is an informal community group in LaGrange committed to collecting stories, building dialogue, healing divisions and seeking justice. Everyone are welcome.