Historical marker memorializing lynching victims dedicated at Sloss Furnaces

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Unveiling of theJefferson County Memorial Project (JCMP) historical marker at Sloss Furnaces, September 9, 2019. Photo courtesy of Birmingham Mayor’s Office

On September 9th, the Jefferson County Memorial Project (JCMP) dedicated a historical marker memorializing lynching victims, Tom Redmond and Jake Mckenzie at Sloss Furnaces. Both men worked at mines owned by the Sloss-Sheffield Iron and Steel Company.

One side of the plaque, which was unveiled Monday evening, memorializes Mckenzie and Redmond who were both lynched at Brookside mines during altercations with law enforcement. Redmond was murdered in 1890 during a shoot-out in front of Sloss & Company’s store. Seven years later, McKenzie was shot and killed when the City Marshal tried to arrest a black man for a charge of abusive language.

Jake McKenzie was the 30th documented victim found in Jefferson County.

Find Healing

Mayor Randall Woodfin addressing the Jefferson County Memorial Project (JCMP) historical marker ceremony at Sloss Furnaces. Photo by Pat Byington for Bham Now

“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,” said Birmingham Mayor Randall Woodfin.

“The Sloss Historical Marker Dedication will stand as a reminder of the injustices we have sworn to fight. Our history may be painful, but it’s only by acknowledging those scars that we can we truly find healing.”

To End the Silence

Jefferson County Memorial Project (JCMP) historical marker dedication. Photo by Pat Byington for Bham Now

Addressing the overflowing crowd at the solemn ceremony at Sloss Furnaces, Scott Douglas, Executive Director at Greater Birmingham Ministries remarked:

“The terror of Jim Crow was that it demanded your silence in the face of injustice, or it demanded your life,” .

“If you stood up in defense of a friend, you could be killed, and your death greeted by silence. If you stood up in defense of a co-worker, you could be killed and your death greeted by silence. We are here to unveil this marker, on this industrial site, because silence must not be allowed to have the last word. To end the silence, we gather in public, we speak their names in public. We remember with this marker dedicated to the memory of Tom Redmond and Jack McKenzie.”

Jefferson County Memorial Project (JCMP) historical marker. Photo courtesy of the Birmingham Mayor’s Office

The other side of the plaque contextualized the murders in the larger system of convict leasing that took thousands of black men’s lives after the Civil War. Sloss-Sheffield Iron and Steel Company used convict leasing to send leased black laborers to work at the Brookside and Coalburg mines. The Jefferson County Memorial Project has sponsored community discussions around convict leasing throughout the summer and will report back on these efforts during the event.

At the ceremony, longtime community advocate Samuetta Nesbitt concluded, “It’s true that this is a truth telling journey we all should take.”

Future Marker Ceremonies

According to a Jefferson County Memorial Project news release, the dedication of the historical marker is part of JCMP’s efforts to create opportunities for an ongoing discussion in Alabama, and around the country, about the presentation, preservation, and contextualization of history. Further marker ceremonies are being planned for lynching sites in Irondale, Bessemer, and Pratt City.

The JCMP is a grassroots coalition of more than 40 community partners and a multi-racial, multi-faith, multi-sector, and multi-generational group of committed volunteers focused on four goals:

● Research the 30 documented racial terror victims and their descendants
● Educate the public on the importance of this history
● Placehistorical markers at lynching sites and retrieving the Jefferson County monument from the National Memorial for Peace and Justice
● Advocate for criminal justice reform across Jefferson County

The project was sparked by the Equal Justice Initiative’s National Memorial for Peace and Justice, which opened in Montgomery last year.

To learn more about the Jefferson Count Memorial Project visit www.jeffersoncountymemorial.com

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Pat Byington
Longtime conservationist. Former Executive Director at the Alabama Environmental Council and Wild South. Publisher of the Bama Environmental News for more than 18 years. Career highlights include playing an active role in the creation of Alabama's Forever Wild program, Little River Canyon National Preserve, Dugger Mountain Wilderness, preservation of special places throughout the East through the Wilderness Society and the strengthening (making more stringent) the state of Alabama's cancer risk and mercury standards.
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