By Ameera Steward
The Birmingham Times
More than 300 people joined members of the Jefferson County Memorial Project (JCMP), city and county officials, residents and civic leaders Monday night at Sloss Furnaces to dedicate a historical marker in memory of two lynching victims.
The plaque, the first historical marker by the JCMP, memorializes Jake McKenzie and Tom Redmond who were both lynched at Brookside mines, owned by Sloss-Sheffield Iron and Steel Company, during altercations with law enforcement.
JCMP, an intergenerational, interracial and interfaith organization, memorializes victims of racial terror violence as well as makes sure the community does not forget present history, said Abigail Schneider, project director for JCMP and a member of the JCMP coalition.
“To do that we think it’s important to help reclaim spaces and narratives for the 30 documented victims of racial terror violence within Jefferson County,” Schneider said. “The plaque at Sloss that we dedicated…we see as an important step towards telling these stories.”
Birmingham Mayor Randall Woodfin, who helped unveil the marker, said “Jake McKenzie and Tom Redmond are two names that must be remembered in Alabama’s history. They were both victims of unspeakable hate and we do them a great disservice by letting their stories be lost to time.
“The Sloss Historical Marker Dedication will stand as a reminder of the injustices we have sworn to fight,” the mayor said. “Our history may be painful, but it’s only by acknowledging those scars that we can we truly find healing.”
Mr. McKenzie and Mr. Redmond were both lynched during altercations with law enforcement.
Mr. McKenzie, who worked at Brookside mines 12 miles north of Birmingham, was a part of a group of men who tried to stop the arrest of a black man who was being charged for abusive language. The officers began shooting at the men and as a result McKenzie and an officer were killed in 1897, and several of the other black men were wounded. No records show that the men were prosecuted for his murder.
Mr. Redmond was killed at Brookside mines in 1890 after an altercation between a group of whites and blacks that ended when Redmond was killed and at least five men were wounded. No one was held accountable for his death.
Murders such as these fall under the Equal Justice Initiative’s definition of lynching.
Schneider said she feels an incredible sense of gratitude to members of the community ready to work for truth and reconciliation.
“We hope that people who attended the [unveiling] or go and see the marker realize that they can become advocates and get involved within their communities, or families, or work places or with the Jefferson County Memorial Project to continue these conversations and let more people know about why it is important for them to get involved too,” said Schneider.
The dedication ceremony is important because “our society is still broken…the only way we are going to get to a more whole place is if we start with the truth and giving people the skills, and places, and understanding to learn how we got to where we are today and then also how we can work to change it,” Schneider said.
Birmingham is known as the Magic City because the city grew over night and had the essential ingredients to make steel and iron, she said.
“Yet, we forget in that history that the reason we were able to become the Magic City is because of the convict leasing system and the abuse and exploitation of black labor,” Schneider said. “So, we hope that this marker will more appropriately and evenly tell that history of Birmingham.”