Bobbie Hart has lived in or near LaGrange, Ga., for her entire life; before 2015, she had never heard about Austin Callaway’s lynching. Like so many other acts of terror, Callaway’s abduction and murder in 1940 had been shrouded in suffocating silence, erased by the fear such despicable acts were designed to engender in LaGrange’s black community. That all changed when—while studying Union Professor Emeritus the Rev. Dr. James H. Cone’s masterpiece The Cross and the Lynching Tree—her friend Wes Edwards uncovered this devastating chapter in their town’s history, and together they initiated a years-long endeavor to confront the truth about their past.
Even “the Callaway family had very little information,” she told me. “It had been passed down on Miss Callaway’s side of the family that someone in the family was lynched, and it would come up at a family reunion, but they didn’t know much about it. They were just piecing things together too.” Indeed, Edwards notes how “that’s part of the way that [lynchings] were intended to work, to stoke fear.” As painful as it is to confront the depravity of a single lynching, it’s even harder to “realize that there’s so much more that we don’t know about.” This discovery, however, began a process of public dialogue and atonement that brought the town together to name this evil—and resulted in what is believed to be the first public apology from a police chief in the South forfailure to protect lynching victims.
Letter from Rev. Strickland to Thurgood