An Apology to Austin — A Commitment to Justice.

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Hundreds of us raised our voices and clapped our hands in honor of Austin Callaway — lynched in Troup County, Ga., almost 77 years ago, when he was between 16 and 18 years old.

We gathered in the historical Warren Temple United Methodist Church in LaGrange. Pastor Vincent Dominique welcomed us with warm words and eloquent prayer.

I had been waiting for over a month to attend this occasion and wrote about it last week. The sanctuary was packed, as was the church annex, where the event was live streamed.

LaGrange Mayor Jim Thornton described the passive acceptance of injustice by elected officials seven decades ago and chastised their complacency. He emphasized that in order to heal today, we must admit to the misdeeds of the past.

We heard LaGrange Police Chief Lou Dekmar acknowledge the heinous murder and apologize for then law enforcement’s negligent contribution to the crime…something no other municipality in the South has ever done. 

Judge Jeannette Little decried the justice system that miserably failed this young man and promised not to let that callous disregard for the law ever happen under her watch.

We felt remorse and shame when LaGrange College President Dan McAlexander spared no words in calling out the “good people” of the community who looked on, silently accepting and ignoring the murder.

And when City Councilman Willie T. Edmondson delivered his emotional account of the African-American community’s struggle for equality, its pain and heartache, and the overwhelming optimism that we might be on the cusp of healing, the tears flowed.

Troup County’s NAACP President Ernest Ward eloquently summarized what happened, what we’ve accomplished, and what the community is capable of becoming — together.

And, finally, we listened to Mrs. Deborah Tatum’s personal message from the Callaway family both in attendance and long gone. We heard their history. We felt their pain. And we lifted them up.

We were a diverse audience — different races, political affiliations, professions, gender, economics, and cultures. But that mattered not.

We were unified by one driving force: the quest for equal justice for all — no matter what.

We felt the same comradeship. We felt the same courage. We felt the same optimism. And in the midst of it all, we felt the same grief for Austin Callaway and his family.

There is no doubt this was a historical event. In fact, “The New York Times” ran a front page story. Local and state media filled the balcony. It made the news on CNN.

But the feeling that pervaded that sanctuary was the truly monumental part of the ceremony — not the national media attention.

I left that beautiful church and drove back to Jones Crossroads filled with hope — the first I’ve felt since November. And I know there were many others who experienced the same emotion.

For I truly believe that no executive orders, no hate-filled rhetoric, and no policies aimed at disenfranchising and intimidating us will ever defeat the collective power of a determined citizenry — and that was the collective power I felt Thursday evening.

We the people are stronger than any tyrant. We’ve stood up to and challenged them before. We have rolled up our sleeves and put our fists in the air and proclaimed, “You will not silence us.”

We have marched for rights, fought for equality, and bled for justice.

And you know what? We will do it again.

 

 

 

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About Pam Avery Printed

I graduated from the University of Georgia in 1972 with a major in journalism (public relations) and a minor in business (marketing). My experience for the last 40 years includes working in the corporate world (banking), the newspaper industry (advertising design and sales), owning and selling a restaurant, restoring and utilizing several old buildings on the property, teaching private dance and drama lessons for 20 years, free-lance writing for a national textile firm, publishing two children’s books, and ghost writing a book. My last tour of duty before beginning the current chapter was working as a reporter, photographer, and columnist for five weekly community newspapers. And now I teach...media writing at Columbus State University in Columbus Ga. I consider myself very fortunate--I get to be around intelligent, energetic and enthusiastic young people. What a joy. I believe the written word is one of the most powerful tools known to humankind. And now we have the ability to reach millions with a simple click of the mouse. Wow.
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8 Responses to An Apology to Austin — A Commitment to Justice.

  1. Ellouise Connolly says:

    A powerful testimony to fighting injustice..a statement of hope.

  2. Judy Jenks says:

    Amen, Sister!

  3. Pal says:

    So well deserved, and you wrote about it so eloquently.

  4. Richard C Wolfe says:

    Pam
    Thank you for covering this event with accuracy and passion. So many wonderful people made this happen

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