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Beverly Foster, Emma Jones and David Boyle, from left, pose together while meeting about the possibility of establishing a memorial to honor those lynched in the area between 1880 and 1950. (Contributed photo)

Local historians are hoping to take a step toward racial reconciliation by erecting a new memorial for victims slain during the lynching era.

Expected to be installed in the community park adjacent to LaFayette Presbyterian Church, the Memorial of Reconciliation, Peace & Justice will commemorate African-American men and women who were lynched in Walker, Catoosa, Chattooga and Dade counties between 1880 and 1950.

If enough space is available, the memorial will also commemorate non-black advocates who attempted to protect African-Americans about to be lynched.

"It wasn't only just black people getting lynched," said Beverly Foster, president of the Walker County African American Historical & Alumni Association. "Lots of times, the sheriffs were just thrown out of the way while the mob did what it wanted to do. In one instance, they even killed one of the law officers and strung him up for trying to protect someone."

The project comes thanks to the efforts of Ridgeland High School alumnus Emma Jones, who is currently a junior at Furman University in South Carolina.

Jones was inspired to kickstart the effort after visiting the National Memorial for Peace and Justice in Montgomery, Alabama, soon after it opened last year. The six-acre site pays tribute to lynching victims throughout the United States.

Motivated to shed light on victims of the lynching era locally, Jones partnered with WCAAHAA and the Walker County Historical Society to form a task force to make the idea a reality.

So far, Foster said their research has helped them identify two lynching victims from Walker, two from Dade, four from Chattooga, and none from Catoosa.

Though reasons for the lynchings range from alleged sexual assault to accusations of murder, Foster said the goal is not to spark debates about the victims' supposed guilt or innocence; it's to highlight the fact that the victims were stripped of their right to due process and a fair trial, as outlined in the Fifth and Sixth Amendments of the Constitution.

"We need all of these memorials so we can remember what happened in our history [so it] never happens again," Foster said. "You can never right a wrong, but you can always apologize for it, move forth and let things be better."

Fundraising efforts for the memorial, which will cost $1,500-$2,000, have already begun.

With historical research expected to be complete by May, the goal is to have the memorial installed by the end of this fall or early spring of 2020.

Those interested in donating funds toward the project or sharing historical information are invited to text Foster at 678-371-4106.

Email Myron Madden at mmadden@timesfreepress.com.

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