Jefferson County Memorial Project to place historical marker for lynching victims in Brookside

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Allyson Carol Payne, C.J. Wade, Joi Brown and Erin Starr at the Jefferson County Memorial Project event on October 22nd. Photo via Jefferson County Memorial Project

Tom Redmond. Jake McKenzie. James Thomas. Tom Edmunds. Four black men murdered in Jefferson County at the hands of white supremacy at the turn of the 20th century. The Jefferson County Memorial Project is dedicated to ensuring that their stories are not forgotten. Here’s how.

The Jefferson County Memorial Project

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The JCMP plans to erect a historical marker at the Brookside Negro School, the only school for black children in Brookside. Photo via Jefferson County Memorial Project

In 2019, the Jefferson County Memorial Project launched with several goals:

  1. Research the 30 documented racial terror victims and their descendants.
  2. Educate the public on the importance of this history.
  3. Place historical markers at lynching sites and retrieve our monument from the National Memorial for Peace and Justice.
  4. Advocate for reform where racial injustice still exists today.

For two years, Jefferson County Memorial Project Fellows have scoured local newspaper archives and more to research victims of racial terror in Jefferson County. As of now, the Jefferson County Memorial Project has discovered 33 documented victims.

Learn more about the 33 documented victims of racial terror in Jefferson County here.

“Saying Their Names Over a Century Later”

A historical marker at Sloss Furnaces remembering Tom Redmond and Jake McKenzie. Photo via Jefferson County Memorial Project on Facebook

One of the JCMP’s goals is to place historical markers at the sites of lynchings in Jefferson County. For months, they have been working hand-in-hand with the Brookside Civic League and Brookside community. Their goal? To place a historical marker in Brookside memorializing four men lynched in Brookside.

Tom Redmond

On June 16th, 1890, a group of white men hurled insults and rocks at a group of black men at the Brookside Mines. The next day, a white man named Tom Acres reignited the dispute by drawing his pistol on Jim McDowell, a black man. Tom Redmond placed himself between the two men, but the confrontation sparked a shoot-out in front of the company store. In the chaos, Tom Redmond was shot and killed.

No one was held accountable for Tom Redmond’s death.

Jake McKenzie

On March 22nd, 1897—a Saturday night—a group of black men gathered in a bar in Brookside. Then, Glen Tetherow, the City Marshal, entered the establishment with a warrant for the arrest of Henry Johnson for “abusive language”. Although Jake McKenzie and others attempted to stop the unlawful arrest, Tetherow and the other officers opened fire, killing McKenzie and wounding several others.

No records show that anyone was held accountable for the death of Jake McKenzie.

Alfred Collins tours the black cemetery in Brookside. Photo via the Jefferson County Memorial Project

James Thomas

On July 3rd, 1897, a crowd of white men marched James Thomas, a black man, around the town of Blossburg. Shortly after, witnesses heard shots up the road. The body of James Thomas was found riddled with gunshot wounds. Although a trial was brought against the perpetrators, they made away with bonds of $1,000 each.

No records show that any of the men faced true justice for the death of James Thomas.

Tom Edmunds

In 1899, three white men shot into a group of black men at a train station, killing Tom Edmunds. Although a trial was held, and eyewitness testimony provided by several black witnesses, the three accused white men were released the next day.

You can read more about their stories here.

Erecting a Historical Marker in Brookside

On Thursday, October 22nd, the Jefferson County Memorial Project hosted a live event in which they discussed their research and plans to erect a historical marker in Brookside.

The program included several panelists:

  • Alfred Collins – Brookside native and resident
  • Joyuese Senga – JCMP 2020 Research Fellow and Samford University Bridge2Rwanda Scholar
  • Barry McNealy – Parker High School History Teacher and local historian
  • C.J. Wade – Brookside native, author, blogger, teacher, and massage therapist.

The marker will be located in front of the Brookside Negro School, the only school for black children in Brookside. Students at the Brookside Negro School were not transported by school buses. In addition, they only received hand-me-down books from the white school in the city, with missing and torn pages. During the winter, students had to chop wood each morning to start the heater.

Over a century after the unlawful deaths of Tom Redmond, Jake McKenzie, James Thomas andTom Edmunds, the Jefferson County Memorial Project is dedicated to remembering their lives and others lost at the hands of racial terror in Jefferson County.

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  • Tennessee native who fell in love with Birmingham during college. Graduated from Birmingham-Southern College in 2019. Passionate about Birmingham and its continued growth.