RALEIGH, N.C. _ At least 120 African-Americans were lynched in North Carolina after the Civil War, and Wake County was not immune from the racial terror.
On Nov. 5, 1918, George Taylor was lynched near Rolesville after the black man was accused of raping a white woman. With the 100th anniversary approaching, students at Exploris Middle School and Middle Creek and Knightdale high schools want the community to commemorate the lynching as part of a campaign to “remember all those who have been victims of any injustice.”
The Alabama-based Equal Justice Initiative says Taylor’s death is the only reported lynching in Wake County. Students working on the project say remembering what happened to Taylor will help bring racial reconciliation to the community.
“There’s so much history that we’re not necessarily told about and not educated about,” said Abby Rogers, 16, a junior at Middle Creek High School in Apex. “It’s easy in today’s society to be oblivious to them, but there are so many things that happened that one we’ve never apologized for as a community and two we’ve never reconciled and moved forward from it.”
Rogers is coordinating the social media campaign, #RememberGeorgeTaylor, to promote the event. Exploris has also collected information about the lynching and the remembrance effort that can be found at http://nando.com/taylor.
As part of the campaign, students hope to collect local soil samples from at least 300 people that will be sent to the Equal Justice Initiative’s National Memorial for Peace and Justice in Montgomery, Ala. The memorial remembers the 4,075 African-Americans who were lynched in the U.S. from 1877 to 1950, including 123 from North Carolina.
According to 1918 newspaper reports, a white woman from a prominent family in Rolesville told authorities that she had been “criminally assaulted” in her home by a black man on Oct. 30, 1918. Taylor was the fourth man who was arrested and brought to the woman’s home for her to identify. After initially being uncertain, she later said Taylor was the attacker based on hearing his voice.
Taylor was being driven to Raleigh by authorities when news reports say the vehicle was stopped by four armed and hooded men. As a crowd of 300 people watched, a News & Observer article says, Taylor was “badly gashed and otherwise tortured to death.”
Taylor’s body was found by authorities hanging from a tree. Newspaper accounts of Taylor’s body being “terribly mutilated” and “riddled with bullets” shocked students who have been researching the lynching.
“It’s just so crazy that it happened,” said Emma Green, 14, an eighth-grade student at Exploris Middle School, a charter school in downtown Raleigh. “I don’t understand how they could do those things.”
Under pressure from groups like the NAACP, a state investigation was launched but no one was ever charged in the lynching.
The lynching would largely go forgotten until eighth-grade students at Exploris and students in Middle Creek’s African-American literature classes began to separately research the case last year. The Exploris and Middle Creek students would later join forces, and Knightdale High recently joined.
In a parallel effort, some students at Raleigh Charter High School are lobbying for a state memorial for North Carolina’s lynching victims.
“We’ve done research that’s never been done before,” said Shannon Hardy, an eighth-grade teacher at Exploris who is helping the students working on the racial justice service learning project. “I can’t tell you how many people we asked and they have no idea there was a lynching in Rolesville.”
The initial goal was to collect soil from where Taylor was lynched and to send it to the Equal Justice Initiative. The nonprofit group memorializes lynching victims by collecting soil from where they were killed as well as listing their names on a monument.
The owner of the land where Taylor was lynched initially agreed to cooperate but later changed his mind. As a result, the students changed the project to collect soil samples from 300 people to symbolically represent the crowd that watched the lynching.
One of the places where students plan to collect soil is by the 1895 Confederate monument at the State Capitol grounds in Raleigh. Gov. Roy Cooper wants the three Confederate monuments at the State Capitol removed, but the N.C. Historical Commission recently recommended that they stay.
What resonates for Exploris students is hearing Joe Holt Jr.’s explanation that seeing the huge Confederate monument sends a “I hate you” message to him and other African-Americans. Holt’s family unsuccessfully tried to integrate the Raleigh City Schools in the 1950s.
“We shouldn’t honor our heritage that’s built on oppression and violence,” said Lily Kane, 14, an eighth-grade student at Exploris.
From Oct. 30 to Nov. 5, students are asking members of the community to collect and send them soil samples. They also want people to sign an “online citizen’s promise” that includes pledging “to no longer remain silent or passive in the face of white supremacy, racial hatred, or any social injustice.”
Wake County school board member Christine Kushner is among the people who have already signed the promise and sent in a soil sample to the students.
Willi Dunlap, 13, an eighth-grade student at Exploris, said the remembrance of George Taylor’s lynching shows how much society has changed in the last 100 years.
“We used to be this very not great society that would lynch people and was just a terrible place,” Dunlap said. “We’ve grown so much since then and I feel like it’s important to recognize how much we’ve grown and how much better we’ve gotten.”
The effort should spark needed conversations in the community about racial issues, according to Matthew Scialdone, the Middle Creek High teacher whose students are working on the project. The Wake County school system has embraced the project, asking Scialdone to give presentations to different groups of teachers and administrators.
“We shy away from uncomfortable history, which has been our way of dealing with these issues, which is not working,” said Scialdone, who was Wake County’s 2015-16 Teacher of the Year. “We try to skip to the reconciliation part of truth and justice.
“We still have race-related issues in the country and part of that is we never really have told our full truth. We’ve never held ourselves fully accountable.”