More than 50 people gathered in the Sunday afternoon heat at Haven of Rest Cemetery in Little Rock to memorialize John Carter, a 38-year-old Black man who was lynched nearby 94 years ago.
The new marker unveiled just outside the cemetery details how, on May 4, 1927, a mob of armed white men captured Carter, hanged and shot him, and dragged his body through the streets. His body was burned at Ninth Street and Broadway, then the heart of the Little Rock's Black community.
The mob formed in response to rumors, with no evidence, that Carter had assaulted a white woman and her daughter. No one was ever charged in connection with his lynching.
Carter was one of at least 493 terror lynchings documented in Arkansas, according to the Equal Justice Initiative and information on the marker.
The marker placement and commemoration was presented by the Arkansas Peace and Justice Memorial Movement; Just Communities of Arkansas; the Pulaski County Community Remembrance Project; the Little Rock Central High School National Historic Site; and the Equal Justice Initiative based in Montgomery, Ala.
"For us, the memory and honoring of ancestors is very important," said Clarice Abdul-Bey, event organizer and co-convenor of the memorial movement. "So I want to say, to the energy and spirit of John Carter: 'If you thought you were not loved, cared for or thought about when the mob took your life, you would respectfully be wrong, because we love you, we care about you, and we value your life. If you thought when the mob took your life, we would soon forget, we will never forget.'"
Haven of Rest is the largest Black cemetery in the state and includes the graves of well-known Arkansans such as civil-rights pioneer Daisy Bates and Joseph A. Booker, the first president of Arkansas Baptist College. Many speakers Sunday noted that they, too, had parents and grandparents buried there, making the event that much more significant and personal.
Lottie Shackelford, a Friends of Haven of Rest board member, was born and raised in Little Rock and said she grew up with the story of Carter's lynching. She attended Bethel Church, where she heard how the mob members took their pews to fuel the bonfire. Thousands of people also ransacked neighboring Black businesses.
The next day, photos of Carter's lynching were sold for 15 cents apiece, the marker notes.
"We pause right now to sit in the discomfort of that. It's only as we have these real and open and honest conversations can we make our way to healing and hope," the Rev. Denise Donnell said. "Let us leave this place remembering that John Carter and all the stories of John Carters in our world live in us."
State Sen. Joyce Elliott echoed Donnell's words, saying her spirit was disturbed listening to Sunday's speakers.
"Our spirits should be disturbed," she said. "If you want your spirit undisturbed, let's do the work to honor them just as people have done today."
As part of the memorial, attendees helped place dirt taken from near the lynching site into a container that was then dedicated at the Little Rock Central High School National Historic Site, where it will be housed.
The dirt is often the most physical, tangible thing people have after these lynchings, said Trey Walk, justice fellow with the Equal Justice Initiative, which has taken part in nearly 50 similar ceremonies around the country.
"We know that these lynchings have legacies; we know they still live with us and we fail to talk about it," he said. "We believe that in that soil is the sweat of those who toiled under slavery, we believe there's the blood of those who died during lynchings, we believe there's the tears of those who suffered under segregation, but that soil also represents an opportunity for something better, for growth, for new life."