Leavenworth honors Juneteenth
A remembrance of those who were lynched in Leavenworth took place Saturday afternoon at Bob Dougherty Park, Second and Kiowa streets in Leavenworth.
The Equal Justice Initiative, EJI.org, has worked nationally to remember those who have been lynched. In their work, they ask communities where lynchings have occurred to do a soil collection. This soil will be placed in a glass jar and sent to their museum in Montgomery, Ala. Further, a collection of soil will remain in Leavenworth at the Richard Allen Cultural Center. This was the purpose of the ceremony on Saturday.
Leavenworth had three known lynchings occurring in the turn of the 20th century. This ties with the most for Kansas. The EJI recognizes the history of racial and economic injustices and inequalities.
These lynchings and racial terrorism caused impacts to the social, political, and economic conditions and disparity among minorities that still exist today. The purpose of the soil collection is to raise awareness of its impact and legacy.
The EJI, through a local committee, held an essay contest as well. There was a reading from a high school student for their essay regarding equal justice. There also was a presentation on each of those who were lynched.
Here is the synopsis of the lynchings: Racial terror lynching plagued Kansas and devastated Black communities for decades, including three in Leavenworth County.
On Aug. 20, 1893, Silas Wilson was found hanging from a honey locust tree a short distance from a main road near Easton. Wilson was hanged for having a friendship with a 16-year-old white girl. Newspapers supported this lynching because of a baseless fear of what could have happened to the girl. No one was held accountable for his death.
On Jan. 29, 1887, 35 white men extracted 18-year-old Richard Wood from the jail using sledgehammers and firearms. The mob converged on Wood due to him being near the area of an assault on a 14-year-old girl, even though she could not positively identify her attacker. Upon exiting the jail, the men placed a noose around Mr. Wood’s neck and attached it to a saddled horse, which dragged him four blocks to his death. Newspapers supported the lynching, and no one was held accountable for his death.
The most infamous and heinous of the three lynchings occurred on Jan. 15, 1901, when a mob of 8,000 white citizens seized Fred Alexander while in Sheriff’s custody. Months earlier, a man discovered his daughter had been murdered. No suspect could be found. Newspapers and citizens spread rumors causing widespread terror and panic.
Alexander became a suspect in the murder when he was accused of assaulting another woman. No other evidence except for beads of sweat and a habit of whistling lead to condemnation and presumption of guilt for the murder.
Due to safety concerns, Alexander moved from city to county jail, and then the State penitentiary. Against recommendations, Alexander was moved back to the county jail where the mob abducted him. This move went against the wishes of the Governor and warden. The mob repeatedly demanded Alexander to confess. Alexander consistently denied accusations of murdering anyone until the moment of his death.
The mob mutilated and castrated him, threw him on a wagon and drove him to Lawrence Avenue and Spruce where a tanker full of kerosene and an iron rail awaited. The mob chained Alexander to that rail and doused him with kerosene. The father asked Alexander one final time if he killed his daughter.
Alexander denied and the father set him ablaze. The fire lasted hours as citizens came to watch. After the fire extinguished, people started collecting charred remains as souvenirs. Again, no one was held accountable.
This murder fractured the community and eventually lead to anti-lynching legislation in fear of more racial violence.