Project Say Something: The Truth About our History
Vague adages abound concerning history. We need to remember it, so we do not repeat it. We cannot know where we are going unless we know where we have been. History is written by the victors. People throw around these adages when it suits their personal beliefs, like when Confederate monuments are threatened (“Project Say Something: Acting Up,” Garden Spices May 2018). But most people are only comfortable talking about a history that fits their worldview.
I encountered this problem while attempting to write an article for a fourth-grade history classroom about the Civil War. The article addressed the life of townspeople in Florence, Alabama during the war, and included a writeup about a lynching of an elderly African American man at the hands of the Confederate cavalry. While the teacher was glad that the article included local information about the Civil War, he deemed the lynching too controversial.
And so, we do not teach it. And we do not talk about it. And we do forget. And when we drag it back up, we’re dwelling on the past. Or creating unnecessary controversy. But talking about the truth, talking about history is necessary for healing.
Leighton, Alabama is a town in Colbert County, Alabama with a population around 700. In the 1800s, it the town was a shipping center for cotton. It is the birthplace of musicians Lefty Bates and Percy Sledge. It is the home of the John Johnson House and Preuit Oaks, both listed on the National Register of Historic Places. And it is the place where four African American men were lynched.
Davenport was taken to jail in Leighton. A mob of 25 to 30 men broke into the jail and took Davenport two miles into the woods where they hanged him.
This is our brutal past. We cannot run away from it; we cannot hide it; we cannot cover it with time and hope it goes away.
Brian Murphy works as a historian for the Muscle Shoals National Heritage Area and the City of Florence Museums. His research interests include African American history, the history of urban renewal and public housing, and Civil War memory.