NAACP Seeks Lynching Reparations
SPRINGFIELD, Mo. (AP) _ The NAACP is calling on the City Council to consider making reparations to the black community for the 1906 lynchings of three black men on a downtown square.
``It’s about so much more than just money,″ said Rosemary Stewart-Stafford, a member of the NAACP’s local chapter. ``Money changes things and it’s a very powerful force, but the real issue is the inability by public officials to issue a public apology.″
Cheryl Fischer, a board member with the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, offered no specific proposal on what the city should offer. But she said reparations are being discussed in communities across the country.
There was little discussion of the proposal at Monday night’s council meeting. Afterward, however, Mayor Lee Gannaway was blunt.
``I think it’s totally absurd,″ he told the Springfield News-Leader. ``I can’t think of too many things much more ridiculous than that.″
On Easter weekend 1906, three black men were dragged out of jail to the town square by a mob of about 7,000 people, many of them fueled by alcohol and the rumor that a white woman had been raped.
Horace Duncan, Will Allen and Fred Coker were lynched, burned and dismembered. All were later found innocent of accusations ranging from burglary and assault to suspicion of murder.
Within hours of the lynchings, hundreds of people fled, taking with them the strong black community presence that Springfield had, said Katherine Lederer, a professor at Southwest Missouri State University who writes about the history of blacks in Missouri.
``After the lynchings and the rampant discrimination, the numbers just dwindled,″ she said.
Just 2 percent of the 225,000 residents in Greene County, which includes Springfield, are black, according to Census Bureau statistics. More than 96 percent are white.
A group of citizens has tried to get the City Council to recognize the lynchings with a plaque downtown. City leaders have been reluctant to approve the plaque, fearing it would stir racial tensions.
Instead, the City Council voted in January to remember the hangings as part of a time line of events of the last 150 years _ a compromise that several members of Springfield’s black community said was insulting.
Attempts in other cities to come to terms with some of America’s largely forgotten racial episodes have led to efforts to pay reparations to the victims. The NAACP has estimated that more than 3,000 people were lynched during the late 1800s and the early part of the last century, many of them blacks.
Earlier this year, an Oklahoma state commission recommended reparations for black survivors of a 1921 rampage by white mobs in Tulsa. Historians say as many as 300 blacks were killed. In 1994, $2 million in compensation was approved for nine survivors and dozens of descendants of a 1923 attack on blacks in Rosewood, Fla.
Stewart-Stafford said the story of Springfield’s lynchings will be the main study of a book titled ``Lynching: The Dark Metaphor of the American Identity,″ being written by Georgetown University Law Professor Emma Coleman Jordan.
``It is a hidden story that we are bringing to light,″ she said. ``People should not be allowed to forget.″
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