Working group holds public hearing to discuss racial terror in Harrisonburg

HARRISONBURG, Va. (WHSV) — About 100 people gathered in Memorial Hall on JMU's campus Monday night to discuss Virginia's history of racial terror and lynching.

Image Source: Patrick Feller / CC BY 2.0 / MGN

The discussion was led by Sen. Jennifer McClellan, and served as the official launch of the "History of Lynching in Virginia" project.

The project aims to uncover the "long and painful history" of lynching in the state.

In 2019, the Virginia General Assembly passed a resolution acknowledging with profound regret, the existence and acceptance of lynching within the Commonwealth of Virginia.

As part of that resolution, the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Commission, chaired by McClellan, and the Department of Historic Resources will work with localities across the state to memorialize the victims and place markers where they were lynched.

"It's important to acknowledge history and connect it with the issues that we are still grappling with today" said McClellan. "We cannot understand other issues without understanding lynching."

To further this project, Gianluca De Fazio, an assistant professor at JMU, created a digital archive called "Racial Terror: Lynching in Virginia" which documents the stories of each of the 104 lynching victims between 1866 and 1932.

"It's important that we start the conversation about what was our past and what that can teach us about the present and the future," De Fazio said.

His historical records show the victims were mostly African American men; however, the one female victim, Charlotte Harris, was lynched near Harrisonburg. The Northeast Neighborhood Association (NENA) dedicates its Community Remembrance Projectto memorializing her life.

"It is important to keep in mind that our community is not immune to this type of potential violence," said Steven Thomas with NENA. "In fact, the lynching of Charlotte Harris proves that we are not immune to racial terrorism."

NENA plans to memorialize the life of Charlotte Harris with the following pillars:

• A Community Remembrance Project,
• A soil collection at the approximate site of the lynching,
• A historical marker, and
• A memorial monument placement

The Community Remembrance project has garnered the support of both Harrisonburg City Council and the Rockingham County Board of Supervisors.