I’m not sure exactly when I heard about EJI’s (Equal Justice Initiative) Community Remembrance Project, but I know that when I heard about it, I wanted to figure out a way to participate.
I want to be a part of creating a greater awareness about our nation’s dark history, not just slavery, but the way that slavery evolved from generation to generation. I want to be a part of de-throning white supremacist rule, and I believe that creating awareness is a step towards that end. It doesn’t seem like we can create justice without looking honestly at the ways we’ve been unjust.
This is a quote from EJI’s website about the purpose of this project:
To create greater awareness and understanding about racial terror lynchings, and to begin a necessary conversation that advances truth and reconciliation, EJI is working with communities to commemorate and recognize the traumatic era of lynching by collecting soil from lynching sites across the country and erecting historical markers in these spaces.
In February 2015, the Equal Justice Initiative issued a new report documenting over 4000 lynchings and so began a soil collection project to mark those lynchings:
While collecting soil from the site of a lynching is a simple gesture, we believe it is an important act of remembrance that can begin a process of recovery and reconciliation to our history of lynching and terror. The named containers with collected soil that we create become important pieces of our broken and terrifying past. We believe these jars represent the hope of community members who seek racial justice and a greater commitment to the rule of law and human rights.
EJI has documented 492 African American victims of racial terror lynching killed in Arkansas, so when I moved back to North Little Rock last fall, I got in touch with EJI and asked if I could participate in collecting soil for any of these victims.
Earlier this year, I received my first instructions for the collection of soil in DeWitt, Arkansas for a man named Mr. Frank Dodd. A couple of Saturdays ago, I drove over to DeWitt with two friends to do the collection. The site of Mr. Dodd’s lynching was unknown, but he was taken by a mob from the Arkansas County Jail, which is now the site of the Arkansas County Circuit Clerk’s Office, so we were asked to choose a tree in the square as a symbolic place to gather soil for Mr. Dodd.
We walked around the courthouse before choosing our spot. My friend, Sarabeth read Nehemiah 9 aloud to us. She had been studying it that week and was particularly struck by the laments the Israelites prayed for the sins of their ancestors.
As three white women collecting soil on behalf of Mr. Dodd, we certainly felt it was applicable to lament the sins of our ancestors.
As we stood in the square, I read aloud the story from EJI about Mr. Dodd’s murder, which I will include below in full.
Then we prayed, lamenting this life that was taken, lamenting the way racism and white supremacy have torn apart families and destroyed so many lives. We lamented the way it sometimes seems that the legacy of racial terror has bequeathed to us a nation so steeped in systemic racism that we cannot ever find our way to true equality.
It had rained the night before we arrived, and the air was still hanging heavy with water. The soil we collected was a dark clay-like mud. We dug it up from the ground beneath trees that were old enough to have born witness to the mob that gathered there in 1916.
I hope to one day visit the memorial in Montgomery that is opening this spring. I’ll look for the jar that we sent to remember Mr. Frank Dodd and I’ll remember the wet March Saturday that we drove to DeWitt to fill it.
My prayer is that many generations will stand after me in front of it. My prayer is that we will reckon with our history in a way that causes us to stop repeating it.
Dear Lord, forgive us.
I hope more people read Mr. Frank Dodd’s story. I hope many people visit the memorial in Montgomery and read EJI’s report on Lynching in America. I hope to see a day when black parents no longer have to warn their children that our American society does not value them.
Arkansas County, Arkansas, October 8, 1916
On October 8, 1916, a mob of about 300 white men broke into the Arkansas County Jail and seized Frank Dodd, an African American man, from his cell, determined to lynch him. Several news reports said that Mr. Dodd became the lynch mob’s target on the accusation of “having annoyed a young white woman.”
According to news accounts, the evening before Mr. Dodd was lynched, he encountered two white women, who passed him in a wagon, and asked them for a ride. Later, one of the women accused Mr. Dodd of insulting her in the course of their interactions and that it was not until she screamed that a nearby white farmer chased Mr. Dodd away. Although Mr. Dodd was not accused of harming anyone, he was later captured by the deputy sheriff and eventually transferred to the Arkansas County Jail in DeWitt.
During the era of racial terrorism, whites’ allegations against black people were rarely subject to serious scrutiny and often sparked violent reprisal. Whites’ fears of interracial sex further stoked racially based hostility and extended to any action by an African American man that could be interpreted as seeking or desiring contact with a white woman. Though the woman had claimed Mr. Dodd ‘annoyed’ her, some sensationalized white newspaper accounts accused Mr. Dodd of “assault.” During this era, “assault” allegations against African American men were often based on merely looking at or accidentally bumping into a white woman, smiling, winking, getting too close, even being disagreeable. In Mr. Dodd’s case, the mere accusation of “annoying” a white woman was enough to arouse mob retaliation.
On October 8th, a white lynch mob of as many as 300 white men formed at the jail and seized Mr. Dodd at gunpoint. Although police officers were charged with protecting those in their custody, white officers rarely used force to resist white mobs intent on killing black people. The lynch mob took Mr. Dodd to the “outskirts” of Dewitt, hanged him from a tree near the local African American community, riddled his body with bullets and left it suspended from a branch. Members of the neighboring African American community later retrieved Mr. Dodd’s body and delivered him to the care of his wife and a local undertaker.
Just two months before, another black man had been abducted from the Arkansas County Jail and lynched. Surviving reports don’t indicate that anyone was ever arrested for either murder.
Frank Dodd was one of at least 18 African Americans victims of racial terror lynching killed in Arkansas County from 1877-1950. Philips County was the only county in the state with more documented lynchings.