More than 500 Ga. lynching victims recognized at sunrise service

The public apology on January 26, 2017 for his agency's role in a lynching of Austin Callaway more than 75 years ago. (Video by Hyosub Shin/AJC; edit by Armani Martin/AJC)

The racial reconciliation movement in Troup County acknowledged more than 500 lynching victims across Georgia in a sunrise service this weekend.

One by one, the names of African American lynching victims were read at service Sunday at Southview Cemetery in LaGrange, culminating a memorial weekend in which a historical marker was dedicated that recognizes lynchings in the county and across the state.

“It was a healing moment for our city and our state,”said Wesley Edwards, co-founder of Troup Together, a bi-racial group that has spent more than a year examining the lynching of Austin Callaway. “It felt very positive.”

The group, along with the local NAACP, worked with LaGrange Police Chief Lou Dekmar as he composed his apology in January for his agency's role in the lynching. Callaway was in police custody when he was taken from the city jail by a group of white men and fatally shot on a rural dirt road in 1940.

A marker to lynchings is unveiled outside the Warren Temple United Methodist Church following a “Call to Remembrance service in memory of lynching victims in Troup County,” in LaGrange, Saturday, March 18, 2017. KENT D. JOHNSON / AJC

Since the chief’s apology, new information has come out about the lynching. A white family who found Callaway and tried to save him in 1940 came forward to tell their story, for the first time revealing where he was found.

Saturday's marker dedication included a church service where white religious leaders in Troup County apologized for the community's silence in the lynching and acknowledged a moral failing by the white community during the era of lynchings.

The historical marker — installed at Warren Temple United Methodist Church — acknowledges Callaway and three other victims who were lynched in the area. Callaway is believed to be buried in an unmarked grave at Southview Cemetery. The maker was sponsored by the Equal Justice Initiative in Montgomery, Ala., which has installed lynching markers in eight other communities across the South.

The marker also addresses a legacy of lynchings and racial terror across Georgia. More than 600 people were lynched in the state between 1877 and 1950. About 90 percent of the victims were African American.

ExploreVisit to see a video about the Callaway case.

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