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A column memorializing two unknown Denton County lynching victims sits at the Equal Justice Initiative’s National Memorial for Peace and Justice in Montgomery, Ala. The memorial features 800 permanently hanging corten steel columns memorializing the more than 4,000 known African-American victims of racial terror. Behind the memorial, each column has a replica such as this one that can be claimed by the county in recognition of the lynchings that occurred.

PILOT POINT — History’s activists plan a community remembrance ceremony in December, a special memorial to stand in place of the funerals that Denton County’s lynching victims and their families never had.

The Denton County Community Remembrance Project, a still-growing grassroots group of volunteers, chose December for several reasons. The time frame gives volunteers a chance to create a meaningful event. They also wanted enough time for other people, including affected families, to become part of the planning. And a December ceremony would fall on the 97th anniversary of one of the few documented lynchings in Denton County.

On Dec. 14, 1922, two men were taken from the Pilot Point jail and never heard from again. Left behind in their place at the jail was a chilling note meant to terrorize the black community.

A key part of the ceremony will be to collect soil that will ultimately become part of the memorial at the Legacy Museum in Montgomery, Alabama. The Equal Justice Initiative opened the museum, along with the National Memorial of Peace and Justice, to national acclaim last year.

Pilot Point resident Cecelia Harris was among the volunteers who spent 90 minutes Thursday evening around a table at the Pilot Point Senior Center talking about the next steps. It was the group’s third meeting in as many months.

Harris was concerned that working too hard to document where the two men had been held, or ultimately murdered, would mean missing the chance to honor the lynching victims whose murders were not documented.

“There were many more,” Harris said. “It wasn’t talked about. Someone they know just disappeared.”

Project members agreed the soil collection needed only be intentional to honor those lives lost from the time of the Civil War through the Jim Crow era. The soil could even be collected in layers from many areas to acknowledge the conspiracy of silence around many disappearances of both blacks and Hispanics in Denton County.

One project member said she collected soil on the Legacy Museum’s behalf once before. Hollie Teague, a graduate student at Texas Woman’s University, met a staff member of the Equal Justice Initiative at a history conference a few years ago. She volunteered to gather a soil sample from Texas for the museum. EJI sent her information about several lynchings in the state. She decided to gather a sample on behalf of a man who was lynched by police in Texarkana.

Teague and her daughter drove to the likely spot of the man’s killing to collect soil to remember him.

“I wondered what it would be like to know I was about to be murdered by an officer,” she said. “I tried to be thoughtful and honor him. Then we said a prayer and collected the soil and sent it back.”

The soil sample sits among hundreds on a memorial wall inside the Legacy Museum.

The December time frame also gives EJI enough time to send local project members the supplies and instructions they need so the Denton County soil sample can become part of the permanent national memorial.

Willie Hudspeth, one of the project’s original volunteers and president of the local NAACP, said the group continues to make good progress in becoming part of the national memorial.

“With this ceremony, all I want is to remember what they went through,” Hudspeth said.

The Denton County Community Remembrance Project members may not meet in September and instead focus on outreach to various churches and student groups that would be interested in participating in the December ceremony, volunteer Chelsea Stallings said.

More information can be found on the group’s Facebook page, bit.ly/2LWDbNp.

PEGGY HEINKEL-WOLFE can be reached at 940-566-6881 and via Twitter at @phwolfeDRC.

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