Lynching in America
Thousands of black people were the victims of lynching and racial violence in the United States between 1877 and 1950. The lynching of African Americans during this era was a form of racial terrorism intended to intimidate black people and enforce racial hierarchy and segregation. Lynching was most prevalent in the South. After the civil war, violent resistance to equal rights for African Americans and an ideology of white supremacy led to violent abuse of racial minorities and decades of political, social and economic exploitation. Lynching became the most public and notorious form of terror and subordination. White mobs were usually permitted to engage in racial terror and brutal violence with impunity as black people were pulled out of jails or turned over to mobs by law enforcement officials unwilling to protect them. Terror lynchings often included burning and mutilation sometimes in front of crowds numbering in the thousands. Many of the names of lynching victims were not recorded and will never be known, but over 580 documented lynchings took place in Georgia alone. Black men lynched in Troup County during this era include Willis Hodnett in 1884; Samuel Owensby in 1913; Austin Callaway in 1940; and Henry Gilbert, a Troup County resident killed in Harris County in 1947.
Raising a Voice Against Racial Violence
Lynchings of African Americans occurred with alarming frequency throughout the United States, including Troup County and surrounding areas. For decades, racial violence was a fact of life. African Americans were denied basic
security of person and property. Fear of police, courts, and night-riding terrorists was powerful. In fall 1940, historic Warren Temple Methodist Church was a center of protest against this injustice. The catalyst was the lynching of Austin Callaway (also known as Austin Brown) in LaGrange on September 7, 1940. That night, a band of armed men took Callaway from the local jail, shot him repeatedly, and left him to die on a rural road. With no meaningful response from white officials, the African American community, led by Rev. L.W. Strickland, pastor at Warren Temple, held mass meetings and organized the first branch of the NAACP in LaGrange. In late October, Strickland wrote Thurgood Marshall, concluding, "[The city has] settled the matter by ignoring it." The lynching remained uninvestigated and no one was ever held responsible for it. Warren Temple, the NAACP members of the LaGrange community, and the family of Austin Callaway erected this marker in 2017 as a step toward recognition and healing. In January 2017, the Chief of Police, Mayor and city leaders formally apologized for the LaGrange Police Department's role in the lynching of Austin Callaway.