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New Oxford Historical Marker Honors Lynching Victims

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Courtesy of Miami University
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Soil collected in 2019 from the lynching sites join jars from across the nation at the Equal Justice Initiative's Legacy Museum in Alabama. Note: Research has since determined that the correct spelling is Simeon Garnet.

In the decades following the Civil War, African Americans remained terrorized by white supremacists and others opposed to equal rights. Lynchings became a public and overt form of racial terrorism and intimidation.

More than 4,000 African Americans were killed by mobs and lynchings across the United States during Reconstruction and beyond through World War II (1865 - 1950). A historical marker being unveiled Monday recognizes and tells the story of two such men from Butler County: Henry Corbin (Jan. 14, 1892) and Simeon Garnet (Sept. 3, 1877) of Oxford.

"It is a solemn occasion, but it's also a time to have some meaningful conversation, to be open and honest about our history and how we move forward from here," says Anthony G. James Jr., Ph.D., interim vice president for Institutional Diversity and Inclusion at Miami University.

"It isn't about creating dissent (or) fomenting anger and division within our communities. It really is to have a community-wide conversation about where we were at and where we want to go as a community. We can't have a situation or situations where people aren't fully protected by the law."

The narrative historical marker in Oxford's Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Park is the culmination of several years of work by Miami's Truth and Reconciliation Project. It's part of the Equal Justice Initiative's (EJI) Community Remembrance Project, which works to improve awareness and understanding about racial terror lynchings. Communities go through a set of procedures including doing research, building a coalition, collecting soil, and memorialize victims on a historical marker.

In 2019, students investigated the killings of Corbin and Garnet. Soil collected from the lynching sites was sent to the Equal Justice Initiative's Legacy Museum in Montgomery, Ala., where the containers are exhibited alongside similar jars from across the country.

"This is American history," James says, noting remembrances and memorials like this have taken a long time to gain traction. For example, he points to the fact that the United States only just made Juneteenth a federal holiday on June 17, 2021.

"We are quite a ways behind for recognizing formally that part of the Civil War," he says. "We have all sorts of monuments - typically in the South - that memorialize the Confederacy," but there hasn't been the kind of truth and reconciliation work about this period of time "and the lives that were lost, terrorized and brutalized in those lynchings."

Fifteen people from Ohio are known to have been killed by lynching during that span. There is one other EJI-sponsored historical marker in the state. Athens County in June 2020 honored the memory of Christopher Davis, who was killed on Nov. 21, 1881.

Speakers at Monday's unveiling include students and representatives from organizations that worked on the project. The Corbin and Garnet families will also be recognized.

James expects the moment will be bittersweet.

"It's a reminder of how their family member was brutalized," he says. "But it's also, I think, sweet in that finally some state-level entity has recognized the wrong that happened and wants to prevent that moving forward. I think that's an important step in truth and reconciliation."

The ceremony is at 9 a.m. Monday, June 21, in the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Park uptown.

While it marks the end of this phase, there's still work to be done. More community conversations are planned, there's a walking tour, information about both lynchings is available at the Smith Library of Regional History in Oxford, and there's an upcoming essay contest for high school seniors in Butler County.

Butler County Historic Marker Text (front & back):

LYNCHINGS IN OXFORD, OH

"During the 19th century, white mobs in Oxford lynched at least two Black men after kidnapping them from the old Town Hall Jail that stood near this site. In September 1877, a white mob stormed the jail to lynch a Black man named Simeon Garnet. Without serious investigation, Mr. Garnet had been presumed guilty of assaulting a white woman. A mob led by the woman's husband broke into the jail on September 2 and shot Mr. Garnet, who managed to survive. Upon learning that Mr. Garnet was alive, the mob attacked the jail again on September 3, shot Mr. Garnet at close range, and dragged him outside the jail, where he was left to die. On January 14, 1892, a white mob abducted Henry Corbin, a young Black man, from the jail to lynch him. Mr. Corbin's employer, a white woman, had been found dead in her home on January 5. A mob quickly formed when the woman's daughter accused Mr. Corbin of the killing. Mr. Corbin's family maintained that the accusation was false and that the daughter had implicated him to hide her own involvement in the crime. Mr. Corbin was captured after being wounded and was brought to the jail; but the mob seized Mr. Corbin from his cell, hanged him from a tree, and shot him over 400 times. Local officers failed to prevent either lynching, which terrorized Oxford's Black community. In the end, no mob participants were held accountable for the lynchings of Simeon Garnet and Henry Corbin."

LYNCHING IN AMERICA

"Between 1865 to 1950, thousands of African Americans were victims of mob violence and lynching across the United States. Following the Civil War, fierce resistance to equal rights for African Americans and an ideology of white supremacy led to fatal violence against Black women, men and children. Lynching emerged as the most public and notorious form of racial terrorism, intended to intimidate Black people and reinforce racial hierarchy and segregation. Many African Americans were lynched for exercising economic freedoms, perceived violations of social customs, and accusations of crimes. White people's allegations against Black people were rarely subject to scrutiny and often sparked violent reprisal, even when there was no evidence tying the accused to any offense. Accusations against Black men by white women regularly aroused mob violence and lynching due to the pervasive false narrative labeling Black men as a danger to white womanhood. White mobs regularly displayed complete disregard for the legal system, seizing their victims from jails, prisons, courtrooms or out of police hands without fear of legal repercussions for the lynchings that followed. Over 15 victims of racial terror lynching have been documented in Ohio, with at least two known to have taken place in Butler County. Acknowledging this painful history enables us to move beyond silence towards the power of truth and reconciliation."