Special Report: NWA Racist history brought to light

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NORTHWEST ARKANSAS, (KNWA/KFTA) – July 7, It’s the date you’ll see on a historic marker in one Fayetteville cemetery. It’s dedicated to three men, lynched in Washington County.

Wendell Huggins is a caretaker at the Oaks Cemetery in Fayetteville. The historic final resting place for many African Americans. In May, it also became home to a remembrance marker.

If you don’t remember the past… No matter how painful it is…You’re doomed to repeat the past,

Wendell Huggins

A reminder of July 7, 1856. The day a black man Anthony and Aaron, a black teenager were kidnapped and lynched by a white mob. The mob lynched a third man Randall, on August 1st.

Randall was killed and hung not so far from that location, the gallows was where the flag pole was in the national cemetery,

Wendell Huggins

They were accused of killing James Boone, a white slave owner.

These were three human beings, three young men who could have otherwise given to the world, much more than they were able to.

Sharon Killian

Sharon Killian is part of the Washington County Community Remembrance Project, a diverse group of community members and local historians. One of the group’s members is a descendant from a relative of the Boone family.

Together, they worked to uncover what really happened in 1856.

Killian says it took years of researching oral history because most black people’s stories during that time were not documented.

We had to find other ways to communicate and to keep our stories and maintain our stories, and certainly, throughout enslavement

Sharon Killian

Ultimately, they learned Anthony, Aaron and Randall did not kill James Boone. Evidence showed Boone tried to sexually assault an enslaved black woman, who killed him in self-defense. Boone’s family implicated the three young men who paid the ultimate sacrifice.

Killian credits a lot of the research to Melba Smith.

Melba had to search and find the right people to tell the story, and even white people who belonged to the white people who did the lynchings knew the story.

Sharon Killian

The two created the Northwest Arkansas African American Heritage Association to start documenting black people’s stories in the region.

Smith discovered she had ancestors who were owned by the Boone family and interviewed some of their living descendants.

n 1856, Aaron and Anthony likely lived in slave quarters that once stood along this tree-lined creek. The creek runs along the edge of the former Boone homestead located in Richland Township, near present-day Elkins, Arkansas. Randall may have resided in quarters provided by the Williams family who lived nearby the Boone estate. 
(Photo by Margaret Holcomb, 2019)

Today, not much is known about the lives of Anthony, Aaron or Randall but Killian says the pain they and many like them suffered never quite goes away.

You take some solace in the fact that you are alive and you don’t have to deal with this type of terrorism all the time… But as you know it happens to us still… By the police…By authority…

Sharon Killian

She and Huggins agree this remembrance marker is one step in the right direction. They hope it prompts real conversations, action, and healing.

We have to rid ourselves of white supremacy that’s it. How do we get there. We deal with the truth… We deal with the truth of the system as it stands and we systematically make the change that we need

Sharon Killian

As Martin Luther King Jr. says we have to learn to live together as brothers or we are going to perish as fools and that is what I’m looking at life as right now… Where can we move on

Wendell Huggins

The organization partnered with the Equal Justice Initiative for this project, as part of a national movement to confront the legacy of racial terrorism.

Via Margaret Holcomb – According to the most historically consistent record, Aaron and Anthony were lynched on July 7, 1856, on or near the “Old Yell Place.” The Archibald Yell estate, known as Waxhaws, included this home (pictured) that was constructed by Yell (1797 – 1847) between 1835 – 1836. . The home stood on what is now called South College Avenue. It was razed in the 1960’s.  The property is now owned by the City of Fayetteville, and is adjacent to the Senior Center.  (Photo by Lester Jones, c.1934, Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division HABSARK,72-FAYVI.V,1-), Washington, D.C. 20540 USA

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THE REMEMBRANCE MARKER READS :

On July 7, 1856, a white mob from present-day Elkins, AR kidnapped and lynched Aaron and Anthony. They were put on trial at the Washington County Courthouse in the death of a white man, James Boone, who enslaved them. Anthony was proven innocent, Aaron was released due to lack of evidence. Disregarding the rule of law, a mob led by Boone’s sons reacted violently, lynching Anthony and Aaron near the jail, most likely on the estate of Archibald Yell, the deceased former governor of Arkansas. Randall, a third accused enslaved person whom an all-white jury found guilty, contested his verdict but was refused a retrial. Like lynchings, court-ordered executions- with mobs standing by- did not require reliable findings of guilt. Randall was hanged by the state on August 1, 1856, likely on Gallows Hill, which is now within the Fayetteville National Cemetery next to Oaks Cemetery.

During this era when enslaved Black people commonly faced violence by white enslavers, local oral history contends that, on May 29, 1856, James Boone attempted to sexually assault an enslaved Black woman who fatally assaulted him in self-defense. The Boone family then implicated Aaron, Anthony, and Randall in Boone’s death. Slavery in Washington County, as elsewhere, devalued the lives of Black people resulting in violence, including sexual assaults and lynchings for which hundreds of white perpetrators were never held accountable.

Marker Unveiling, May 15, 2021 – Photos below provided by Sharon Killian and Margaret Holcomb

Copyright 2021 Nexstar Media Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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