OUR VIEW: Lynching victims innocent until proven guilty

Published 8:00 am Wednesday, December 9, 2020

The conversation surrounding lynching victims in Lafayette County has been ongoing for years, but this week advocates for a memorial plaque and county supervisors were left grappling with a difficult issue. 

District 3 Supervisor David Rikard, while making it clear he is in favor of a lynching victim memorial plaque on the courthouse lawn, expressed concern about the inclusion of Lawson Patton, who was lynched in Oxford in 1908. 

According to news reports, including reports from the EAGLE itself at the time, Patton was “caught red-handed” murdering a white woman. A mob, led by former U.S. Sen. W.V. Sullivan, dragged Patton out of his jail cell, tortured and killed him. 

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While Patton may have been guilty of the crime, he was not afforded due process, as was his right by law. And, therein lies the crux of the issue. 

April Grayson, a committee member for Lynching Memorialization in Lafayette County and longtime spokesperson for the cause, said it best when she pointed out the complexities surrounding lynching victims, their alleged crimes and the unjust punishments they received.  

Patton never made it to court, which means the facts of his case were never examined truthfully. Instead, he was brutalized and punished by a mob.  

Whether he did commit the crime or not, Patton was innocent until proven guilty, as is the case with every person charged with a crime in the United States. By taking the law into their own hands, the mob robbed Patton of due process and robbed the alleged victim’s family of true justice.  

Patton’s lynching is one of seven recorded in Lafayette County, potentially more whose names were buried along with their bodies.  

Including Patton’s name on the plaque should not be a hang-up for the Board of Supervisors. Instead, through working with the Lynching Memorialization in Lafayette County Committee and the Equal Justice Initiative, they can learn that Patton’s lynching is a classic example of the way lynching victims have been portrayed throughout history.