Jefferson County Memorial Project Efforts Continue Into the Next Decade

The first lynching marker erected by the Jefferson County Memorial Project is at Sloss Furnaces and dedicated in honor of Tom Redmond and Jake McKenzie. (Source: Cheryl Slocum)

The Jefferson County Memorial Project, a grassroots, citizen-led organization that focuses on uncovering and reconciling racial terror and racial violence that is a part of the county’s past, is in its second year of operation with no end in sight.

The coalition has continued its work with city committees to delve more deeply into local incidents and to make plans for memorials in their areas, with events to raise awareness, with a student essay contest and with a quilting project to illustrate the area’s past of racial violence through art. More academically inclined work also is continuing, and JCMP on Tuesday released a new report that built on last year’s work documenting Jefferson County’s lynching victims and describing the ways police, the media and businesses fed into the violence of the era.

The JCMP is an offshoot of the work done by the Equal Justice Initiative to erect a National Memorial for Peace and Justice, which opened in Montgomery in April 2018. The monument consists of 800 steel slabs, each a monument representing a different U.S. county and engraved with the names of lynching victims from that county. Jefferson County’s monument lists 30 of the 362 victims of lynching that had been documented in Alabama at the time.

EJI created duplicates of each county monument to ultimately place at the local level. The process toward that goal includes an invitation to individual communities to participate in the conversation about where the county monuments should be placed and other historical markers desired at the city level. The most positive response so far has been for Jefferson County’s monument to be placed in Linn Park. Lewis Houston, the first documented lynching victim in Jefferson County was killed in Linn Park, making that location historically significant. No decisions about the county monument have been finalized to date.

Speaking about the timing for the retrieval and placement of the Jefferson County monument, JCMP Director Abigail Schneider said, “We’re in constant communication with EJI and excited to continue work on community readiness with them. EJI is focused on making sure communities have properly prepared and educated,”

“The monument is just one part of a larger process not only to educate the community but also to advocate for change around the issues of criminal justice that still exist today,” said Schneider.

JCMP also last year turned its attention to prisons, conducting educational seminars with the public and talks with inmates about conditions.

On Sept. 16, JCMP dedicated the county’s first historical marker recognizing events of racial terror and violence and placed it at Sloss Furnaces. The marker acknowledged the lynching deaths of two men who were killed at the Brookside mines, which were owned and operated by the Sloss-Sheffield Iron and Steel Company. The decision to place the first marker at Sloss Furnaces was driven by the security the location offered as well as the volume of public traffic the national historic site and museum receives. JCMP also placed a second plaque during the same dedication that explains the two lynchings in the context of the post-slavery convict-leasing system that was used to supply workers at the mines.

Targeted Efforts

JCMP also has helped form committees to delve into and understand the history of racial terror in specific cities and communities. In 2019, JCMP city committees were created by local leaders in Bessemer, Crestwood, Irondale, Homewood, Mountain Brook and Pratt City. The committees, made up of interested residents, hosted meetings and events and worked on establishing sites for historical markers to memorialize incidents of racial terror.

Schneider said that in 2020, the work at the city level will continue and local memorial dedications are in process. Markers are likely to be dedicated in Irondale for the lynching death of William Wardley; in Pratt City in connection with individuals who were lynched in association with Pratt Mine; and in Bessemer, where soil is being collected at four sites where individuals were lynched and for whom the committee would like to dedicate markers.

The Brookside committee is working to have a duplicate of the Sloss Furnaces marker placed this year in their city, where the racial violence occurred.

EJI fabricates the markers and determines the schedule for placing them. City councils approve the placement.

Last February, JCMP released a report detailing the lynching accounts of 30 victims in Jefferson County between 1883 and 1940. College students, brought on as JCMP fellows from six Jefferson County-area colleges, led by university advisers researched and compiled the report. The research continues in 2020 with a new crop of JCMP fellows who scoured local news to unearth more information on victims and other previously undocumented events.

“We have these 30 documented victims, but we are finding ways in which racial terror was used to control the black community. We see the ways in which the mines used sexual violence to control black women,” Schneider said.

JCMP also conducted an essay contest for Birmingham City Schools high school students and worked with teachers throughout Jefferson County who put together a curriculum, “Your Names Were Never Lost: Teaching the History and Language of Lynching and Resistance in Jefferson County, Alabama.” That curriculum will be piloted in several Jefferson County schools this year.

Using art as a vehicle to better understand the county’s history with racial violence, Schneider said, the JCMP is co-sponsoring The Lynch Quilts Project, presented by local sewing nonprofit Bib and Tucker and UAB.

The project is a community-based effort led by artist LaShawnda Crowe Storm, who leads community-based efforts to examine the history and ramifications of racial violence in the United States through the textile tradition of quilting. Including exhibits, lectures and workshops by Storm, the project will run until March 15.

As an offshoot to the event, a group of Pratt City quilters will launch a quilting project to memorialize racial violent and terror that occurred in their city.

The Jefferson County Memorial Project leadership includes nine core coalition members and has 230 volunteers who work on a variety of tasks including marketing, research and help at events. Schneider said the response to JCMP’s work over the past year has been positive. Pointing to the more than 3,200 people in attendance at JCMP events and the inclusion of 32 community partners* Schneider said, “We are in awe and so grateful to the community for embracing our work  We have seen no pushback to make us question what we are doing.”

Read more BirminghamWatch coverage of JCMP’s Work

How They Did It: College Students Were Trained in Research Techniques to Tell the Stories of Jefferson County’s Lynching Victims

Researching Lynchings was Disturbing, Eye-Opening for Students Who Took on the Project

“This Report Will Be Hard to Read:” Jefferson County Memorial Project Puts the Spotlight on Lynchings, and There’s More to Come.

Jefferson County Memorial Project Memorializes Two Lynching Victims at Sloss Furnaces


*Community partners to JCMP include:

Abroms-Engel Institute for Visual Arts

Alabama Dance Council

Alabama Faith in Action

Alabama Trust for Historic Preservation

ARC Outreach Center, Bessemer

Birmingham AIDS Outreach

Birmingham City Schools

Birmingham Civil Rights Institute

Birmingham Holocaust Education Center

Birmingham Islamic Community

Birmingham Jewish Federation

Birmingham Museum of Art

Birmingham-Southern College

Breakthrough Birmingham

Brookside Civic League

City of Bessemer (Mayor’s Office)

City of Birmingham (Mayor’s Office)

Community Foundation of Greater Birmingham

Create Birmingham

Desert Island Supply Co.

Greater Birmingham Arts Education Collaborative

Greater Birmingham Ministries

Foundation for Arts and Cultural Connections

Highlands United Methodist Church

Hispanic Interest Coalition of Alabama

HIVE Alabama

Jefferson State Community College

Kids in Birmingham, 1963

Lawson State Community College

Magic City Acceptance Center

Magic City Bar Association

Miles College

Mission Impossible Inc.

No More Martyrs

Offender Alumni Association

Personnel Board of Jefferson County

Red Mountain Theatre Company


The Regenerative Society

Samford University

Studio 2500

Space One Eleven

The Altamont School

The Listening Project

University of Alabama, Birmingham

Urban Impact

White Birminghamians for Black Lives

YWCA Central Alabama