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Coalition to mark locations of lynchings in Roanoke

Franklin and Mountain Intersection
David Seidel
Radio IQ
The first marker will be placed near the intersection of Franklin Road and Mountain Avenue in Roanoke's Old Southwest neighborhood

For about three years, a coalition of civic leaders, churches and community activists has been working with the Equal Justice Initiative, the national memorial in Montgomery, Alabama established to remember the 4400 lynchings of black men women and children during the Jim Crow era.

Two of those murders were in Roanoke. And coalition chair Brenda Hale of the Roanoke NAACP says the main purpose of the planned community remembrance project is simple. “To heal the community and eliminate racial injustice."

About 50 supporters listened to speakers describe the hangings of William Lavender in 1892, and of Thomas Smith a year later.

EJI is providing the Roanoke group with memorial markers, at no cost. The first one will be placed later this month at Mountain Avenue and Franklin Road, where Smith was killed. Glass jars of soil from the site will be sent to Montgomery, and likely displayed at the Harrison Museum in Roanoke.

Coalition and Roanoke City Council member Bill Bestpitch said this project is not meant to make anyone feel guilty. “We’re not here to accuse anybody of anything. We’re here to bring truth to the table so we can experience reconciliation.”

The group has also been trying to find anyone who may be related to Lavender or Smith. So, far, no one has turned up.