Charles Hale’s life ended in downtown Lawrenceville on April 8, 1911, after a crowd of masked vigilantes stormed the county jail, pointed guns in the faces of the sheriff and deputies and took him in the dark of night.
The mob took Hale — a Black man who had been accused of assaulting a white woman — to a light pole at the corner of Pike and Perry Streets on the Lawrenceville Square, tied a rope around his neck and lynched him, according to an account in The News Herald newspaper.
After he died, Hale’s killers reportedly disappeared into the night, but his body was left hanging from the light pole with a photo being taken that weekend of a crowd of white men and children gathered around. The photo eventually ended up in the Georgia Archives.
More than 110 years after Hale’s murder, his life will be memorialized by local leaders and the Gwinnett Remembrance Coalition with a ceremony on the square from 10 until 11:30 a.m. on June 19, which is also Juneteenth.
Participants in the Soil Collection Ceremony will gather dirt from near the corner where Hale died and collect it in a jar for inclusion in the Equal Justice Initiative’s Community Soil Collection Project, which collects soil from the sites of lynchings as a way to remember the people who were killed during them.
“Digging up soil and preserving it in a special jar for public display is a solemn, symbolic, spiritual way to honor Mr. Hale and to acknowledge his humanity and the trauma, terror, and pain that he must have experienced in his last moments,” Gwinnett Remembrance Coalition officials said in an announcement for the event on social media. “Digging up and preserving the soil is a tangible way of memorializing Mr. Hale, restoring his dignity, and ensuring that he is not forgotten and that he did not die in vain.”
The ceremony will include songs, poetry and narrative readings, invocations from local clergy members and the presentation of proclamations by the Lawrenceville City Council and Gwinnett County Board of Commissioners.
There is a significance to the date chosen for the ceremony. Juneteenth is the anniversary of slaves in Texas learning they had been freed, which is considered the official end of slavery in the U.S.
The Gwinnett Remembrance Coalition is partnering with the city of Lawrenceville, Gwinnett County government and the Gwinnett Historic Restoration and Preservation Board to hold the ceremony.
Earlier this year, a 1993 memorial to Confederate soldiers was removed from a spot on the square that was only a few yards away from the spot where Hale had been lynched. Prior to that memorial’s removal, there had been calls to not only take it down, but to do something on the Lawrenceville Square to remember the lives of Hale and other Gwinnett County residents who had been the victims of lynchings.
There are at least eight people who are known to have been lynched in Gwinnett County, according to The Lynching Project, which is an effort by University of Georgia students to research and document lynchings that have occurred in the state.