More than 200 people gathered for a Soil Collection Ceremony hosted by Focus on Race Relations (FORR) Frankfort and the Equal Justice Initiative (EJI) on Sunday at the Paul Sawyier Public Library to remember Marshall Boston and John Maxey, who were lynched from the Singing Bridge more than a century ago.
On Aug. 14, 1894, Marshal Boston had been arrested for allegedly raping a white woman, said Dantrea Hampton, with the Frankfort chapter of the NAACP. Fifteen years later on June 3, 1909, John Maxey stood accused of fatally shooting a traveling circus performer, also white.
Both men — black Frankfort residents — were seized by crowds of white vigilantes before having their day in court and hanged from the Singing Bridge, their bodies riddled with bullets, according to FORR.
The two lynchings are only a couple of verified racial atrocities to occur in the capital city of Kentucky but among thousands that took place during that era in the United States, historians say. At least 169 happened in Kentucky from 1877 to 1950, according to figures provided by EJI, an Alabama-based nonprofit that advocates for equal treatment in the criminal justice system.
Representatives from EJI collected soil from the site of the Singing Bridge on Sunday and allowed community leaders and members to place the soil in jars that bore the names of Boston and Maxey. The jars will be placed in the Legacy Museum: From Enslavement to Mass Incarceration and The National Memorial for Peace and Justice in Montgomery, Alabama.
“The soil project allows the community to engage with this history and to memorialize these men and recognize our wrongs in history,” Breana Lamkin, with EJI, said.
State Rep. Derrick Graham, D-Frankfort, also spoke about the importance of knowing the history of racism.
“Those who don’t learn our history are deemed to repeat it,” Graham said. “This ceremony helps us never forget what happened and we need to do all we can to make sure nothing like this happens again. Diversity is a blessing, not a curse.”
Rep. Joe Graviss, D-Versailles, said that respecting the dignity and lives of all people, no matter their creed or color, could help combat racial injustice.
“Let’s honor the sacrifices of the past and acknowledge injustice and celebrate diversity today and every day,” Graviss said. “Speaking up needs to come from love and forgiveness.”
Frankfort Independent Schools Superintendent Houston Barber encouraged those in attendance to continue to have conversations about race with their families and in the community.
“I encourage you to continue courageous conversations and to focus on remembrance,” Barber said. “We still have a lot of work to do.”
Ed Powe, president of FORR Frankfort, said the top problem the nation is facing is race.
“We have to step outside our comfort zone and we have to talk about race and race relations no matter how uncomfortable we may feel,” Powe said. “We don’t have lynchings per se, but we still have racism in Frankfort. The justice system is unfair to black American youth. Our school systems are not teaching the history of racism and slavery. That needs to be addressed.”
Powe said FORR’s next major community outreach program will be Juneteenth, on June 19.
“That’s the day slaves were freed in Texas,” Powe said. “We’re going to ask city and county leaders to issue a proclamation making June 19 Race Relations Day in Frankfort.
“We’re going to make buttons that say ‘I’m not afraid to talk about race’ and ask everyone to wear them for 24 hours and then have an informal get-together.”