Our Town : A Heartland Lynching, a Haunted Town, and the Hidden History of White America
The brutal lynching of two young black men in Marion, Indiana, on August 7, 1930, cast a shadow over the town that still lingers. It is only one event in the long and complicated history of race relations in Marion, a history much ignored and considered by many to be best forgotten. But the lynching cannot be forgotten. It is too much a part of the fabric of Marion, too much ingrained even now in the minds of those who live there. In Our Town journalist Cynthia Carr explores the issues of race, loyalty, and memory in America through the lens of a specific hate crime that occurred in Marion but could have happened anywhere. Marion is our town, America's town, and its legacy is our legacy. Like everyone in Marion, Carr knew the basic details of the lynching even as a child: three black men were arrested for attempted murder and rape, and two of them were hanged in the courthouse square, a fate the third miraculously escaped.
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March 21, 2006
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Excerpt from Our Town by Cynthia Carr
I was an adult before I ever saw the picture. But even as a girl, I knew there'd been a lynching in Marion, Indiana. That was my father's hometown. And on one of many trips to visit my grandparents, I heard the family story: the night it happened back in 1930, someone called the house and spoke to my grandfather, whose shift at the post office began at three in the morning. "Don't walk through the courthouse square tonight on your way to work," the caller said. "You might see something you don't want to see." Apparently that was the punchline--which puzzled me. Something you don't want to see. Then laughter.
I now know that, in the 1920s, Indiana had more Ku Klux Klan members than any other state in the union-from a quarter to a half million members-and my grandfather was one of them. Learning this after he died, I couldn't assimilate it into the frail Grandpa I'd known. Couldn't assimilate it at all and, for a long time, didn't try. He was an intensely secretive man, and certainly there had been other obfuscations. He always said, for example, that he was an orphan, that his parents had died when he was three. I accepted this, but the grown-ups knew better. After Grandpa's funeral, my father discovered a safe deposit box and hoped at last to find a clue to the family tree. Instead he unearthed this other secret: a Klan membership card. All my father said later was "I never saw a hooded sheet. He'd go out. We never knew where he was going."