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Lynching victims will be remembered with historical markers in downtown Houston park

The monuments are part of a nationwide effort by the Equal Justice Institute to acknowledge victims of racial terror.

HOUSTON — Four documented victims of lynching in Harris County will be remembered with historical monuments in downtown Houston.

County Commissioners voted unanimously Tuesday to approve the markers. 

The murders of those African-American men happened between 1890 and 1928 in Harris County. \

John WaltonHe was shot in 1890 after being accused of theft. A mob of prominent politicians or law enforcement officers surrounded him. 

“They trapped him under a house in the First Ward. And when he came out, they shot him and killed him," Jeffrey Littlejohn, a history professor at Sam Houston State University, told Houston Public Media. 

He has compiled a list of each case in his study, Lynching in Texas. 

According to Littlejohn, lynchings are under-counted because many assume they always involve hanging. 

“But in reality, lynching can involve any crime committed by three or more persons – by a mob of people – who take a person out and kill them without due process in violation of the law in order to support white supremacy,” Littlejohn told Houston Public Media. 

Bert Smith: Lynched in Goose Creek on Sept. 21, 1917. He was accused of rape. 

“A mob of something between 400 and 800 whites attacked the jail and took him out,” Littlejohn said. “Harris County had due process of law, and instead the crowd obviously did not want it to be carried out and wanted to execute him.” They ended up hanging him from a tree with a rope.

John White was burned to death in a Crosby jail. 

“The official report said that John White had tried to burn down the jail himself and must have been passed some matches through a hole in the door, and that this was an escape attempt," Littlejohn told Houston Public Media. "And in fact, it seems quite obvious that what had actually happened was that John White was burned to death in a very small jail in Crosby."

Robert PowellThe murder suspect was hung from a bridge on Westheimer on June 20, 1928, according to Public Media.  He had been kidnapped from a hospital. 

It  happened while Houston was hosting the Democratic National Convention, according to Houston historian Debra Blacklock-Sloan. 

The monuments are part of a nationwide effort by the Equal Justice Institute to acknowledge victims of racial terror.

“These people didn’t have due process,” said Commissioner Rodney Ellis of Precinct One, who said he was inspired to act after visiting the EJI’s museum in Alabama.

Commissioner Ellis spent a year and a half working with local historians, academics, and community members on the project. 

Ellis’ staff said EJI will pay for the markers. Commissioners will vote on the design during a future meeting.

The group selected Quebedeaux Park, just across the street from the county administration building where commissioners meet.

The court had already voted to expand the park by turning property next door into green space.

 “I thought it was important to have the display right there in front of the Harris County Courthouse because, not only does it commemorate the sacrifices that these people made that have died in such an awful, horrendous set of circumstances, but also to make the point that we’re committed to due process, to equal protection under the law,” said Commissioner Ellis.

Several speakers testified in favor of the project during Tuesday’s meeting.

“It is not something that is desirable, but it’s something that is essential,” said Rev. William Lawson of Wheeler Avenue Baptist Church.

“There was nothing in the textbooks that spoke about lynchings,” said Bishop James Dixon of the Community of Faith Church. “I’m looking forward to us seeing schools bring buses to this monument.”

“It is the least and perhaps the most thing we can do for these four men,” Sloan said.