After over 100 years and the city of Gadsden never forgets Bunk Richardson.
GADSDEN, AL (WBRC) – A historic marker in Gadsden commemorates a dark moment in the east Alabama city’s history when a black man was lynched 100 years ago from a bridge, reported by WBRC.
Bunk Richardson was remembered in a special ceremony on Tuesday, Dec. 13.
He was one of six people accused in the rape and murder of a white woman, but now believed to be innocent.
Richardson died hanging from the span of the downtown Gadsden railroad bridge.
It was the work of a lynch mob following the death of Sarah Jane Smith, despite the lack of evidence against Richardson.
“He was not connected at all, actually. He just passed Vance Garner on the street that night, and when Garner was arrested that night, he actually went to the police and said ‘I couldn’t possibly have done it because Bunk saw me on the road that night,” Gadsden historian Chari Bostick said.
A mob showed up at the jail and demanded to see Richardson.
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“They went into the jail, and demanded that Bunk come out. And the jailer was knocked out. And they took him from the jail, and brought him through town, and took him out on the railroad trellis, and hung him,” Bostick added.
Three other men, including Vance Garner, were eventually convicted.
But the Gadsden Reads project and its study of the Bryan Stevenson book Just Mercy ignited the idea of remembering Richardson and the injustice done to him without so much as a trial.
“We have come to know that there are several in the state that have been unjustly hanged for things that they wouldn’t have been normally been hanged for,” Bostick said.
The Equal Justice Initiative, which is led by Stevenson, has plans to build a national memorial and museum honoring more than 4,000 victims of lynching. The museum is slated to open in April 2017 and the memorial will likely open in late 2017 in Montgomery.
The ceremony took place in a building not far from the railroad bridge where a mob hanged Richardson after midnight on Feb. 11, 1906 in retaliation for the commutation of a death sentence against a man accused in the murder of a white woman a year earlier.
Richardson, who was still being held as a material witness in the murder case, was taken from the Etowah County jail and lynched. Some white citizens in Gadsden condemned the killing at the time, as Richardson was believed to be innocent of any crime.
The marker will be installed later this year, as inclement weather prevented landscaping work from taking place prior to tonight’s ceremony.
The marker was a project of Montgomery’s Equal Justice Initiative, which is memorializing the sites of racial lynchings throughout the South and building a national memorial to the victims. It was also organized by the City of Gadsden and other community organizations, including the Gadsden Public Library.
Deborah and Theresa Beverly, Gadsden residents, were there. The two are relatives of Richardson, and they never believed they would see a historical marker bearing his name.
“We knew it all along as a family that it happened, and it was really, really horrible that it took place in our city,” Theresa said.
“It’s wonderful that the city and the different organizations involved did this,” Deborah said.
In song, spoken word performances and prayers, the ceremony recognized the event more than a century ago as speakers mentioned “healing.”
“I’m so proud of my city tonight,” said City Council President Deverick Williams, who had heard the story of Richardson’s murder as a teenager. He said young people can learn from the lynching that people can be “high on emotion but low in social responsibility.”
Even the saddest moments of the African-American history need to be remembered as they are also a part of the national heritage. We grieve about each lost Black life and hope the stories from gruesome past will not repeat in future.