An 1861 Lynching Haunts Us Today
In 1861 or 2021, the word “lynching’ evokes the same stomach churning and nauseated response. Most often associated with a horrible fate experienced by Black people, at the hands of white mobs, l recently realized how little I understood about this word or its practice. All of that changed, when I was introduced to two names: George Marshall Clark and Tyrone Randle, Jr.
Last week, an invitation showed up in my email that read, “The Forest Home Cemetery and Forest Home Historic Preservation Association boards, along with America’s Black Holocaust Museum, would like to invite you to be an honored guest at the dedication of a memorial marker for George Marshall Clark on the 160th year of his burial at Forest Home Cemetery.” Immediately, I started racking my brain trying to figure out who was George Marshall Clark? Like any good researcher, I turned to Google. I stumbled across a February 2021 interview done on WUWM radio titled “‘It’s About Healing’: Activist Works To Memorialize Milwaukee’s Only Black Lynching Victim.” Lynching? Milwaukee had a lynching?
Lynchings happened in the Southern states like Georgia, Alabama and Mississippi. After all, it was Mississippi Gov. James Vardaman, who was elected in 1903, that said “If it is necessary, every Negro in the state will be lynched; it will be done to maintain white supremacy.” I heard a local historian, who while discussing Clark’s story, said the word lynching was derived from the last name of Col. Charles Lynch. Lynch believed in taking justice into his own hands, while working under a Virginia governor during the Revolutionary War. His methods were dubbed “Lynch’s Law” and originally had nothing to do with hangings or specifically, punishment of Africans or Blacks. Over time, it became what we know today and it is what happened to Clark.
In 1861, George Marshall Clark, was wrongfully taken from a Milwaukee jail and hanged for a crime he did not commit. His body was buried at Forest Home Cemetery on Milwaukee’s South Side in an unmarked grave. And 159 years later, a Milwaukee college student, Tyrone Randle, Jr., heard of Clark’s story. Hit by a car during a Black Lives Matter protest, Randle was sidelined from marching. Looking for a way to contribute to the continued fight for equality and justice, he decided to plan a march to commemorate Clark. After much research and assistance, he found where Clark was buried and also decided to raise money for a headstone for his grave. Randle’s decision, that fateful day, led to my email invitation.
As I sat in Forest Home Cemetery listening to the many speakers, it was not lost on me that Clark’s story had remained hidden from our state’s history books. Like much of Black history, America tells the stories that put her in the best light. We skirt around the uncomfortable truths, leaving them unmarked or untold. The second paragraph of the Declaration of Independence states, “We hold these truths to be self –evident, that all men are created equal…” We know that wasn’t exactly the truth when the document was written in 1776. In 2021, in order to heal our nation, we have to keep working towards those ideals as our goal.