Lynching victims in Alachua County will be remembered through a soil collection ceremony
Five lynching victims from Alachua County communities will be remembered with a soil collection ceremony next month.
The five African American victims killed between 1889 and 1926 were from Waldo, Hawthorne, Rochelle and Campville. Three of the victims were identified as George Buddington, Henry White and Charles Willis. A boy and another individual, whose gender is unknown, could not be identified.
More than 50 known African Americans were lynched in Alachua County from 1867 to 1942. They were often shot, beaten and burned in addition to being lynched. In 2020, the Alachua County Community Remembrance Project began in partnership with the Equal Justice Initiative, an organization that works to recognize the deep-rooted history of racism across the country by collecting soil from lynching sites and holding remembrance services to give victims a proper memorial.
Jackie Davis, the remembrance project’s community liaison, said the soil used for the ceremonies is symbolic.
“We collect soil from the site where the person was lynched,” Davis said. “And the feeling–the philosophy behind that–is that [it represents] the blood, sweat and tears of both the enslaved people and the people that were terrorized in the Jim Crow era,” Davis said.
The remembrance project was established after members of the Alachua NAACP and Alachua County Commission visited The Legacy Museum in Montgomery, Ala. The Equal Justice Initiative opened the museum in 2018.
The museum includes a wall covered with jars containing different shades of brown soil, Davis said. They are labeled with the names of victims and the dates of when they were lynched.
When Alachua County holds soil ceremonies, two jars of soil are collected, Davis said. One stays in the county while the other goes to The Legacy Museum’s display. Descendants of the lynching victims will be called upon to fill the empty jars with the soil from the site where the lynching took place. The service serves as a funeral — something the terrorized victims never received.
These soil ceremonies educate the community about the history of racial violence and how current racial issues are the ongoing legacy of past racial tension, Davis said. Various soil ceremonies have been held across the U.S. and invited communities to confront pasts of violence and racial terror.
“To me, these community remembrance projects remind us of the history and sacrifice within our community,” said Lizzie Jenkins, the project’s Archer team leader. “This allows us to honor and preserve the history that is still so present in our lives.”
Adolfho Romero, the assistant director of the Samuel Proctor Oral History Program at the University of Florida, said federal officials tolerated racial violence during reconstruction in the 1940s.
“This dark time of violence and barbarity led to separation between groups,” he said.
Romero said being knowledgeable of this history enables people to confront modern-day challenges, such as mass incarceration and police brutality.
Executive Director of the Matheson History Museum Kaitlyn Hof-Mahoney said Alachua County is no stranger to racially charged violence. The Rosewood Massacre, which destroyed the town of Rosewood about an hour outside of Alachua County, took place in 1923.
“There was a thriving African American community in Rosewood, and a white woman got a Black man accused of sexual assault,” she said. “There had been a KKK rally in Gainesville immediately preceding this accusation, so they came to Rosewood to burn the town. Many were killed.”
The Equal Justice Initiative, the Alachua County Commission, the Real Rosewood Foundation and the cities of Waldo, Hawthorne, Rochelle and Campville collaborated to create this remembrance project and give lynching victims peace and final rest. These soil ceremonies are a form of closure for descendants of those killed and a form of truth and reconciliation, Davis said.
Carl Smart, the deputy county manager of Alachua County’s Community and Strategic Initiatives, said he believes in the importance of remembering history.
“This is not a pleasant part, but it is still important to know that these things occurred,” Smart said. “The idea is that we remember the history so that we continue to improve the way we live together”.
The soil ceremony to honor these victims will take place on Feb. 19 at 10 a.m. at the Waldo Area Historical Society Caboose Museum, which is located at 14450 NE 148th Ave.