Community members gathered at the northeast corner of the Grant County Courthouse square Friday evening to remember the events that took place on Aug. 7, 1930.
On the 90th anniversary of the infamous lynchings of Thomas Shipp and Abraham Smith, and the attempted lynching of James Cameron, members of the Marion Community Remembrance Project collected soil to be sent to the Equal Justice Initiative’s (EJI) National Memorial for Peace and Justice in Montgomery, Alabama.
“I think this year in particular with the murder of George Floyd, we’ve seen what happens when you have collective trauma, collective grief and collective action, and so I’m hoping from this moment we spark some new conversation, new action, and build our community in a different direction,” said organizer Torri Williams. “Tonight is just one step in the work that has already been done in the community.”
The Marion Community Remembrance Project is led by a coalition of local individuals, organizations and churches that desire reconciliation through the act of remembering.
On Friday morning, Pastor Andrew Morrell said he revisited pictures from his visit to the EJI National Memorial for Peace and Justice in 2016.
“I remember just looking at all of the dirt jars that were collected and just thinking of the fact that Marion is not here, why are we not here?” he said.
The soil collection serves as an opportunity for the community to remember and memorialize the victims of the lynchings and engage in conversation about racial violence in America, Morrell said.
According to the EJI website, “The Community Soil Collection Project provides a tangible way for community members to confront the legacy of racial terror lynchings and to memorialize the African American victims whose lives were lost and the communities impacted by such violence.”
The soil is being taken from the place in which the lynchings occurred as well as the traditional and ancestral land of the Myaamiaki (Miami people) who occupied the area for thousands of years.
“Even the soil has been exposed and has seen a long, long history of racial violence right on top of it,” Morrell said. “The soil tells a story.”
Morrell described the lynchings as a “hidden sin no one wants to talk about.”
He addressed Facebook comments that called the soil collection “race-baiting,” and numerous comments asking why the event is still being discussed so many years later.
“Memory and history are part of who we are, whether we like it or not. This is part of our reality,” he said. “The reality is if we don’t acknowledge where we come from, how can we ever move forward together? The reason we are so divided is because we cannot tell the truth about our history together.”
As a pastor, Morrell noted the biblical significance of soil.
“If we read the story in Genesis, it is dirt from which we come from. When we die, it is dirt in which we go back to,” he said.
Humans’ connection to dirt is representative of humans’ relationship with each other, Morrell said.
“We view the dirt as something to be exploited, something to be used for our benefit, for our gain, but we don’t understand that this dirt is supposed to take care of us and we are supposed to take care of it, and we are supposed to take care of each other,” he said. “We have failed to take care of one another as humans across racial, ethnic boundaries. Even the soil has been faithful to us when we haven’t been faithful to it.”
Some of the soil collected will be sent to the National Memorial for Peace and Justice at a later date, and a jar will be kept at the Marion Public Library Museum as well.
Williams said the coalition plans to host an essay contest for local high schoolers in partnership with EJI, as well as more community education events, facilitated discussions and workshops.
“(We are) just continuing to work towards racial justice and bringing the issues to the forefront, and drawing connections so that people understand the period of time in America when the lynchings were occurring, with black folks as the victims, in particular, those same themes exist today,” Williams said.
For more information and to get involved, email marion email@example.com.
“At the end of the day, this is what I want people to know: There is nothing that is too big for God to heal,” Morrell said. “But we must trust God enough to enter into the painful waters that could potentially bring about our healing if we go there. I’m grateful to be a part of this, and I’m encouraged by what’s going on, and we have more work to do.”