Unveiling ceremony for the marker at Craven Street and Emma Road in honor of Hezekiah Rankin. Photo: Renato Rotollo/Urban News

Unveiling ceremony for the marker at Craven Street and Emma Road in honor of Hezekiah Rankin. Photo: Renato Rotollo/Urban News

Buncombe County Remembrance Project Unveils Markers Honoring Lynched Citizens

Historical markers memorialize Mr. John Humphries, Mr. Bob Brackett, and Mr. Hezekiah Rankin.

Historical markers memorialize Mr. John Humphries, Mr. Bob Brackett, and Mr. Hezekiah Rankin. 

Unveiling ceremony for the marker at Craven Street and Emma Road in honor of Hezekiah Rankin.  Photo: Renato Rotollo/Urban News
Unveiling ceremony for the marker at Craven Street and Emma Road in honor of Hezekiah Rankin. Photo: Renato Rotollo/Urban News

After more than two years of preparation, the Buncombe Community Remembrance Project (BCRP), led by the Martin Luther King, Jr. Association of Asheville and Buncombe County, has installed and unveiled historical markers across Buncombe County honoring three known victims of lynching in the county. The unveiling, held on October 30, began with a ceremony in Pack Square Park, followed by visits to historical markers memorializing Mr. John Humphries, whose marker is at College and Spruce Streets, Mr. Bob Brackett (Triangle Park), and Mr. Hezekiah Rankin (Craven Street and Emma Road).

The BCRP is part of a partnership with the Equal Justice Initiative’s (EJI) Historical Marker Project. EJI, based in Montgomery, AL, collaborates with communities across the country to memorialize documented victims of racial violence that occurred during the years from 1877 to 1950, as well as to foster meaningful dialogue about race and justice.

Racial violence directed at Black people in America has been well documented throughout the history of the United States. The struggle began with enslavement of the first African Americans brought to the British (and French and Spanish) colonies; it continued through Reconstruction, the Jim Crow era, the Freedom Riders, the Civil Rights movement, to the present-day Black Lives Matter movement. Especially during the Jim Crow era, deep racial hostility burdened Black people with presumptions of guilt, often resulting in accusations that were unfounded, unreliable, and resulted in mob actions without due process of law.

Lynching, which was widespread for three-quarters of a century from the late 1880s to the 1950s, was a terrorist tactic meant to reinforce white supremacy. Honoring and remembering the three men lynched in Buncombe County during those years provides just a small snapshot of the times in which the three men lived and died, while rescuing them from the obscurity of history. In each case, race, rather than the alleged offense, sealed their fates.

Lynching of John Humphries, July 15, 1888

For generations, white supremacy and racist hostility have levied unfair accusations and harmful assumptions of guilt in such crimes on Black Americans. In one such case, on July 14, 1888, the daughter of Benjamin Parker, a white, suburban planter, was reportedly assaulted in the woods as she returned to her home outside the city. Late that evening police arrested John Humphries, a Black youth reportedly about seventeen years of age, for the assault. Police officers took Mr. Humphries to the Parker residence, where Mr. Parker’s daughter reportedly identified him as the assailant.

The following morning, a masked mob broke into the jail where Mr. Humphries was being held, intimidated law enforcement into unlocking the cell doors, and forcibly removed Mr. Humphries. The mob hanged John Humphries from a tree within a few hundred yards of the jail.

Although court proceedings took place in the matter of the lynching, a jury found just one perpetrator—identified only by the last name Thomelson or Thomerson—to have been an accessory to the lynching before the fact. No one was held truly accountable for the lynching of John Humphries.

Lynching of Hezekiah Rankin, Sept. 24 or 25, 1891

On the evening of September 24, 1891, Hezekiah Rankin was accused of shooting Fred A. Taylor, a white co-worker with the Western North Carolina Railroad. An altercation between the men began after Mr. Rankin was asked to perform duties unrelated to his job. During the altercation, Mr. Taylor assaulted Mr. Rankin, who allegedly left the scene and returned later with a gun.

Accusations of a crime made by a white person against a Black person were rarely subject to serious scrutiny. The mere suggestion of Black-on-white violence could spark outrage, mob violence, and murder. A group of at least 25 white residents, including the co-worker’s friends, captured Mr. Rankin and hanged him from a tree along the French Broad River, just south of Smith’s Bridge near the current River Arts District. Mr. Rankin’s body was later returned to his home in Elmwood, NC.

While three members of the mob were charged as accomplices, no individuals were charged. In that society—as, frequently, is still the case—white lives held heightened value, while the lives of Black people held little or none.

Lynching of Bob Brackett (Brachett), August 10, 1897

Bob Brackett (or Brachett) was a traveling laborer passing through the Asheville area when, on August 8, 1897, Kitty Henderson of Weaverville, alleged she had been assaulted. Suspicion was immediately directed toward local Black men, and Henderson identified Mr. Brackett. He was apprehended by a posse August 10 at the home of Reverend Sandy Ray, in nearby Barnardsville.

Despite a lack of evidence to indicate his involvement, Mr. Brackett was taken to the Asheville jail. An angry white mob stormed the jail, only to discover the sheriff had taken Mr. Brackett on the train to Raleigh. The mob forcefully seized Mr. Brackett from the train near Old Fort and brought him back to Weaverville, the scene of the alleged crime. He was lynched on the grounds of the Hemphill School. No one was ever held accountable for the murder of Bob Brackett.

 

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