OXFORD • With support from the City of Oxford and Lafayette County, advocates celebrated the establishment of what representatives hope will be the first of seven historical markers. This first marker memorialized Elwood Higginbottom, the last documented lynching victim in Lafayette County.

April Grayson, racial equity practitioner with the William Winter Institute for Racial Reconciliation worked with several interested committees to organize an event to honor Higginbottom in October.

The event was a year in the making and started when a law student began asking questions about lynchings in the area, through her work with the Civil Rights and Restorative Justice Project.

Today, Grayson said there are about 100 people involved in “the movement” in the Oxford/Lafayette County area and said several local businesses and individuals have donated food, printing services and money to this project.

Grayson said approximately 500 people attended Higginbottom’s Oct. 27 memorial at Second Baptist Church in Oxford, including approximately 40 of Higginbottom’s family members.

“It was a full house, and quite a wonderful crowd,” Grayson said.

“The city donated the land and put up the marker for us for free,” local advocate Alonzo Hilliard said. “Then the Lafayette County Board of Supervisors offered a Resolution, resolving to stand as one, as a community, and recognize the injustice to Elwood Higginbottom and offer condolences to the Higginbottom family.”

The marker was donated by the Equal Justice Initiative and is located at the corner of North Lamar Boulevard and Molly Barr Road in Oxford.

Grayson said approximately $4,000 has been donated since the project began one year ago, which has gone to various activities, such as commemorative booklets handed out at the event, a community meal after the event, and a special gift was made to the Higginbottom family.

“We were able to take them to Montgomery, Alabama, to the new National Memorial for Peace and Justice,” Grayson said.

The Montgomery memorial opened to the public in April, and according to the Equal Justice Commission, is the first memorial dedicated to the legacy of enslaved black people in America.

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“The rest of us paid our own way, but we raised money to allow us to pay for the Higginbottom family to go spend the night and participate in the Peace and Justice Summit, and to see the marker in Montgomery with Elwood Higginbottom’s name on it,” Grayson said.

Elwood Higginbottom

In 1935, sharecropper Elwood Higginbottom lived on a farm adjacent to a white neighbor, Glen Roberts. Higginbottom had a disagreement with Roberts over what is suspected to be efforts to take part of Higginbottom’s land away by fencing it in.

Roberts reportedly trespassed on Higginbottom’s property one night armed with a weapon, forced his way into the house and threatened Higginbottom, prompting Higginbottom to shoot Roberts, who later died.

Fearing repercussions from the town and law enforcement, Higginbottom fled and was caught hiding in a pond in Pontotoc County. He was brought in by the Pontotoc County Sheriff to a Jackson-based holding facility to be held before trial “for his own safety,” Grayson said.

“Two of the local officials from Lafayette County interviewed him and apparently coerced a confession out of him that was not accurate,” Grayson said.

Higginbottom was then returned to Lafayette County for trial. There was speculation the jury would acquit Higginbottom for acting in self-defense. On Sept. 17, 1935, Higginbottom was kidnapped from the local jail by an estimated 50 to 150 white men.

“They marched him up North Lamar Avenue, north to an area called the ‘Three Way’ and media accounts say he was lynched just north of the Three Way on a side road, and that he was shot and hanged. Then his body was cut down and buried in an unmarked grave and his family had to flee immediately, his wife and three young children,” Grayson said.

There are seven documented lynchings in Lafayette County. The earliest record of a lynching in the county is 1885, but Grayson said those lynchings date from the Reconstruction era through the 1960s.

“We know racially motivated killings happened before that,” Grayson said, adding that lynching before Reconstruction was a tool of terrorism used to suppress blacks in the South.

In addition to the Higginbottom memorial, the Equal Justice Initiative sponsored its annual essay contest for high school students in counties with EJI historical markers memorializing victims of racial injustice. Four winners from Oxford High School were announced at the October memorial.

cristina.carreon@journalinc.com Twitter: @Ccarreon90

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