By John A. Tures, Professor of Political Science, LaGrange College
On August 17, 1915, Leo Frank was hung from an oak tree in Marietta after having been dragged from a Georgia jail. Most believe now that Frank was not guilty of murdering Mary Phagan, a 13-year-old killed where Frank worked, on April 26, 1913. Subsequent Georgia governors have commuted, even pardoned Frank.
But Cobb County decided more needed to be done. In 2008, a marker was placed to document the awful events of that August. And in 2018, a new marker was placed in a new spot in Cobb County. The Atlanta Anti-Defamation League stated “It was also announced that the site has been approved for the first-ever National Anti-Lynching Memorial in the country. This memorial footstone will be dedicated next August on the anniversary of the Frank lynching.”
Should lynching memorials be made? It’s a controversial topic in this country, especially in the South where most of these events took place. Opponents claim that placing such signs would be honoring murders, and could stir up trouble, bringing up the past. Supporters say that the truth about such awful events need to be retold, so they are never repeated again.
Currently, my students and I are helping out a group that wants to dedicate an anti-lynching memorial in a West Georgia county. We’re gathering data from the Equal Justice Initiative (EJI), which documented lynchings in America. We then look at which counties have made lynching memorials and signs in their own county, not just those part of the Montgomery site. And we consider which counties have yet to make such memorials, to see how they might be different economically, politically and demographically.
To get that data, my students and I look at how the counties voted in the 2020 election, seeing what share voted for Trump that year, according to CNN data. We also use the U.S. Census Bureau data to determine the white non-Hispanic population of that county, the total retail sales per capita in 2017, and the percentage of persons in poverty in that county as well.
While my students code all memorials dedicated from mid-2017 through 2023, and data on their counties, I gathered the data on EJI lynching memorial cases from 2015 to early 2017.
Of the counties that made memorials and dedications in that early period of commemoration, their average total retail sales per capita came to $10,229.63, significantly ahead of those counties which have not yet worked with EJI or others to make such signs in their county. Their total retail sales per capita numbers came to $6,354.25.
When it came to persons in poverty, those counties which have not yet made the move to publicly acknowledge the past had a poverty rate on average of 24.53%, significantly higher than the average poverty rate of those with anti-lynching markers, which came to 19.89%.
Here’s what else is surprising about these Alabama, South Carolina and Tennessee counties I looked at. The percentage of Republican support in counties working for the EJI averaged 52.3%, not as different from the counties yet to act, which voted 55.875% for Trump. It’s a similar story for the white population: where the EJI counties averaged 52.68% white, non-Hispanic, and those not yet making a memorial were 55.44% white, non-Hispanic.
My students are still hard at work this semester on their own cases, so this is analysis of mine is just a preliminary analysis. But the data from the early cases do tell an interesting story. What that tells me in this preliminary analysis is that the economies of the counties doing the anti-lynching memorials are doing better than those that don’t. But it’s not as though there’s a strong racial and political divide among the counties that do something and those that haven’t yet. Accepting and explaining that things were done wrong in the past need not be something only Democrats and non-whites do. Counties which are majority white, and Republican, can come to that conclusion as well.