Shortly after midnight on April 8, 1911, Charles Hale was in the Lawrenceville jail, Georgia, accused of assaulting a White woman when about 200 masked men broke into the jail and kidnapped him. He was dragged onto the town square by the masked men, who also hoisted him up to a pole, tied a rope around his neck and shot him.
Hale was a 36-year-old Black man from Gwinnett County, Georgia, when he was lynched. He had a wife and daughter and never got a chance to have a fair trial before his horrific killing. The Atlanta Constitution reported that the crowd “strung him up to a telegraph pole and shot his body full of holes,” at about 12:20 a.m. A note hanging from his toes read: “Please do not wake him”. No one was arrested following the incident. An image of his lynching was printed on a postcard.
Many years passed and almost everyone in Gwinnett County forgot about him. Some didn’t even know he existed. In 1993, a Confederate monument was erected around the site where he was lynched. Buildings were put up. Everyone had moved on until last June when Gwinnett County partnered with the city of Lawrenceville, the Gwinnett Historical Restoration and Preservation Board and the Gwinnett Remembrance Coalition for a soil collection ceremony on the very spot where Hale was murdered.
The ceremony was in recognition of the injustice meted out to Hale and other lynching victims as Gwinnett County and the rest of the country continued to acknowledge the country’s history and its racial past. During the ceremony, the soil was collected and separated into two jars. It was announced that the jars containing this soil will be displayed in Gwinnett County and at EJI’s Legacy Museum in Montgomery.
And seven months after that ceremony, Lawrenceville has honored Hale’s memory with a historical marker in its town square at the corner of Pike and Perry streets, near where he was lynched.
“Mr. Hale’s marker will serve a symbol of remembrance and acknowledgment of tragic events in our history but also represents our community joining together in hope and faith to educate current and future generations,” said Mayor David Still. “The city of Lawrenceville is honored to work with Gwinnett County and engaged community organizations seeking to preserve and ensure the constitutional rights of every person who lives, works, or visits our city. All must be respected and protected.”
A small crowd was at the unveiling of the historic marker on Saturday. The event included a short memorial service and statements from Hale’s family and officials from Gwinnett County and the city of Lawrenceville. Hale’s niece, Inger Williams, was at the event. She said she grew up with the wife of Hale, Willie, who was only 20 years old when her husband was killed. Willie hardly spoke about the incident afterward and lived until 70.
Records show that Hale was a farmer who was born in 1875. He married his wife Willie in 1891 and they had their daughter, Sarah, in 1906. Per census records cited by officials, Hale was diagnosed with asthma as a child. After his death, he was buried in a pauper’s field near the Gwinnett Justice and Administration Center. He does not have a gravestone.
The Gwinnett Remembrance Coalition led the way for the project to create Hale’s historical marker. “Confronting our history is painful, but doing so is essential if we are to learn from the past and move beyond it,” Ray Harvin, chair of the Gwinnett Remembrance Coalition, said. “Our silence about this history allows the legacy of racist violence and injustice to continue to poison our community in ways that harm us all. Only by coming together to acknowledge past wrongs can we ensure that these wrongs are not repeated.”
Last year, the Confederate monument around where Hale was lynched came down. Lawrenceville’s mayor and council advocated for the monument’s removal, AJC reported.
In the late 19th century, lynchings were the only latest form of racial terrorism against Black Americans after White plantation owners had used various forms of violence against the enslaved. According to the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), tension had begun brewing throughout the late 19th century in the U.S., and this was mostly felt in the south, where people blamed their financial woes on the newly freed slaves that lived among them.
Whites resorted to lynching as a form of retaliation towards the freed Blacks. What mostly triggered these lynchings were claims of petty crime, rape, or any alleged sexual contact between Black men and White women. Whites started lynching because they felt it was crucial to protect White women.
From 1882 to 1968, 4,743 lynchings occurred in the United States. Of these people that were lynched, 3,446 were Black. The Blacks lynched accounted for 72.7% of the people lynched, according to the NAACP, which was quick to add that not all of the lynchings were ever recorded. Out of the 4,743 people lynched only 1,297 White people were lynched, that is, 27.3%. These Whites were lynched for domestic crimes, helping Black people or being against lynching.