Community honors lives lost during lynching era

Professor Lyle Foster delivers the keynote speech at the community remembrance held at Park Central Square on Oct. 2. The event was hosted by the Remembrance Coalition to honor three African American men who were lynched on the square in downtown Springfield in 1906.

Three black men were lynched in downtown Springfield on Oct. 2, 1906. As a result, many members of the black community fled in fear, never to return. 

Over 100 people from the Springfield community gathered at Park Central Square on the 113th anniversary of the lynching to honor Horace Duncan, Fred Coker and William Allen with the unveiling of a historical marker in the form of a commemorative plaque.

The Springfield Community Remembrance Coalition, along with Mayor Ken McClure, organized the remembrance in collaboration with the Equal Justice Initiative, an organization working with communities around the nation to commemorate and raise awareness of the lynching era between 1877 and 1950 by erecting historical markers. 

Keynote speaker and Missouri State University sociology professor Lyle Foster galvanized the crowd in his speech, shouting impassioned words and urging the community to join him in not “sugarcoating” history. Foster said he grieves the loss of the three men who died at the square, as well as for those who left the city.

"I grieve for our community— for what we could have been if these three young men had lived to make their full contribution," Foster said. "I grieve for each one of us for what we could have been as a city if the diversity, the richness, the potential of those who left and the reputation of our city and our region had not become what it was for decades. Who might have come? 

“So this is a difficult moment, and we’re not going to whitewash it. We’re going to talk about it. We’re going to experience it and hopefully, by God’s strength, we can move on from here."

Foster took an inclusive approach to his speech, calling for reconciliation for marginalized  communities in Springfield, including multi-racial communities and LGBTQ communities, earning a round of applause and cheers from the crowd.

A common theme running through the speeches was the importance of recognizing even the worst parts of history. Gabrielle Daniels, EJI representative, spoke at the remembrance reminding listeners that, “our histories live among us today.”

“We can’t live in a vacuum and pretend the contemporary issues we have today only happened in our time,” Daniels said. “Work of memory is a work of justice.”

Although the lynching occured over 100 years ago, Daniels said communities have “failed to participate in the work of repair, remembrance and reconciliation.”

Janelle Treat, a Central High School senior, said she attended the event to learn more about the history of the town she grew up in. She believes the racial injustice that happened in 1906 still echoes today.

“Although things aren’t happening to this extreme, there still is kind of that divide, and our end goal is equality for everyone,” Treat said. “Even though this happened 100 years ago, there’s still things happening to this today, and they all connect.”

Rebecca Johnson, an alumna of Missouri State University, attended the event and said recognizing Springfield history can uncover the reasons behind modern issues the community faces.

“I think when we’re looking at the national stage right now, we’re slowly uncovering why things are the way they are,” Johnson said. “We have to keep pulling back that veil that’s keeping us all in the dark, our own history that we don’t like to talk about.”

The unveiling ceremony revealed a plaque with the names of the men who were lynched, as well as the story of their deaths. Although the unveiling of the historical marker was the main event of the morning, Foster said this does not mean the end of reconciliation or an end to discussing the history, but instead, he urged the community to do more to “rise past and move forward.” 

“I want us all to leave here with a fresh and renewed determination for what we need to do in times like these,” Foster said. “Justice is coming for our city, for our region and the three men we honor today.”

Foster engaged the crowd asking them to chant with him several times throughout his speech, and to hold hands at one point. 

His voice carried across the square with determination as he chanted with the community, “Praise God we’re not where we were, but we are not at the finish line.”