On Sept. 8, 1940, a 16-year-old Negro boy was lynched in the town of LaGrange, Ga., with little to no fanfare, and certainly no justice for his death.
Almost 80 years later, town officials have acknowledged the injustice done to Austin Callaway during a recent event at LaGrange’s Warren Temple United Methodist Church before a diverse overflow crowd.
“We failed Austin Callaway,” Mayor Jim Thornton said, according to CNN. “Justice failed Austin Callaway.”
According to news accounts, Callaway was arrested after a White woman claimed a Black man had assaulted her—though police say no record of the original allegations exist today. Six armed White men stormed the jail and ordered the jailer to open Callaway’s cell. The young man was borne away and his body—riddled with five gunshot wounds in his head, arms and hands—was later found on a rural dirt road.
The local newspaper buried the story, which bore the headline, “Negro succumbs to shot wounds,” and local police did not investigate.
“I sincerely regret the role law enforcement played in Austin Calloway’s death, both through our action and our inaction,” current Police Chief Louis Dekmar, who is White, told the crowd.
Troup County NAACP president Ernest Ward said he was heartened by the apology, adding that it came at a good time.
“I think the time is right—where we are in America and as a nation we seem to be so divided, and whether we want to admit it or not a lot of our division is based on race,” Ward told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “Just as in any relationships when a wrong is done against an individual there is a need to make amends, to apologize, to make it right. What the chief is choosing to do at this time, I’m excited about it because I see it as a step in the right direction that will open up many more doors and opportunities to bring healing.”
According to a report by the Equal Justice Initiative, headquartered in Montgomery, Ala., there were 4,075 racial terror lynchings in 12 Southern states between 1877 and 1950.