A ceremony that was planned for this weekend to honor the life of an African-American man who was lynched nearly 111 years ago on the Lawrenceville Square is being converted to an online only event due to a new surge in COVID-19 cases.
On Monday, the Gwinnett Remembrance Coalition announced the change to the ceremony honoring Charles Hale. The event scheduled for Saturday was to include a ceremony at a local church as well as the dedication of a marker located on the corner of the Lawrenceville Square where Hale died, but the recent sharp rise in COVID cases in the area has scuttled those plans and forced a move to virtual commemorations.
“This ceremony will now take place virtually, in light of the current Omicron spike in COVID-19 cases,” organizers said in an announcement. “There will no longer be an in-person event, and those who had previously registered will be alerted via email. The historical marker will be located on the west side of Lawrenceville square. Community members and members of the press are invited to visit the memorial at their convenience after it is installed to learn about the history of lynchings and racial terror in Gwinnett County.”
The online commemoration of Hale’s life, as well as the marker dedication, will take place from 11 a.m. until noon on Saturday. Organizers said there will be a short memorial service, a dedication ceremony, statements from members of Hale’s family and remarks from Gwinnett County and Lawrenceville officials. The Equal Justice Initiative will also announce the winners of a racial justice essay contest held for Gwinnett County public high school students.
Anyone who would like to receive the livestream link for Saturday’s ceremony is asked to register online at https://gwinnettrc.eventbrite.com.
Hale was seized by a mob in the middle of the night in April 1911 and taken to a pole at the corner of Pike and Perry Streets on the Lawrenceville Square, where he was lynched. His body was left hanging from the pole into the next day, when a large crowd gathered to take a photograph with his body.
A copy of that photograph is now held in the collection at the Georgia Archives in Morrow. The Gwinnett Remembrance Coalition teamed up with the Alabama-based Equal Justice Initiative last summer to host a soil collection ceremony to fills jars with soil from the site of Hale’s lynching. One of those jars was put on display at the EJI’s Legacy Museum in Montgomery, Ala.
“Confronting our history is painful, but doing so is essential if we are to learn from the past and move beyond it,” said Ray Harvin, chairman of the Gwinnett Remembrance Coalition. “Our silence about this history allows the legacy of racist violence and injustice to continue to poison our community in ways that harm us all. Only by coming together to acknowledge past wrongs can we ensure that these wrongs are not repeated.”
Other local officials shared those sentiments.
“Mr. Hale’s life was callously taken during a time when the weight of injustice and racism bore a heavy burden on people of color — specifically black residents,” said Gwinnett County Chairwoman Nicole Hendrickson. “It is an honor to partner with the city of Lawrenceville and these essential community organizations to commemorate Mr. Hale’s life, while celebrating just how far we’ve come as a county.”
Commissioner Marlene Fosque said, “History, both good and bad, has a way of shaping who we are as a community. And from this moment forward, future generations will know that Gwinnettians came together to memorialize a victim of a dark injustice in our county’s history. Mr. Hale’s marker is not only a symbol of reflection, but also helps ensure his story remains at the heart of our community.”
And, Lawrenceville Mayor David Still said, “Mr. Hale’s marker will serve a symbol of remembrance and acknowledgment of tragic events in our history but also represents our community joining together in hope and faith to educate current and future generations. The city of Lawrenceville is honored to work with Gwinnett County and engaged community organizations seeking to preserve and ensure the constitutional rights of every person who lives, works, or visits our city. All must be respected and protected.”