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Roanoke groups dedicate marker at site of 1893 lynching

Roanoke Lynching Marker
David Seidel
Radio IQ
The marker was placed near the intersection of Franklin Road and Mountain Avenue in Roanoke's Old Southwest neighborhood

The ceremony took place Wednesday evening, the same day, 129 years ago, that a white mob hanged an innocent Black iron worker from a tree and blasted his body with gunfire. The crowd took the body of Thomas Smith to the Roanoke River and burned it. Smith had been suspected of an assault of a white woman. The mayor and other officials tried to protect him. But they failed.

For three years, the racial justice groups planning this project had been hoping to find someone from the Smith family. And now one has come forward, introducing herself to Roanoke NAACP chair Brenda Hale at the Henry Street music festival last weekend. A third-generation descendant of Smith’s relatives, Teresa Scruggs, said it’s painful to remember what happened, but necessary. “It’s acknowledgement, because he didn’t do it. It just feels good to realize that Roanoke realized their wrongs,” Scruggs said Wednesday.

Soil from the marker’s base at Franklin Road and Mountain Avenue was placed in a glass jar. It will join others like it at the national lynching memorial in Montgomery Alabama.

Some 200 people attended Wednesday evening's ceremony. “We just had memories and we would talk about this every ten years like I said it would be published in the Roanoke Times about the lynching of Thomas Smith. And I just never thought something would come like this now, in 2022. So, anything’s possible," Teresa Scruggs noted. "Things change. Change is coming.”

A second marker is planned for the site of another Roanoke lynching, that of William Lavender in 1892. No date for that has been set.

A similar marker will be dedicated Saturday afternoon in Wise County, according to the Bristol Herald Courier. It memorializes Dave Hurst, who was lynched in the late 1920s near Norton.