COEBURN — Monday night, town council is likely to consider voting on a resolution that recognizes a dark period in Wise County’s history.
Town attorney Will Sturgill has prepared a resolution regarding the Community Remembrance Project. The initiative aims to document the area’s history of lynching incidents against African-Americans.
At a July 22 council meeting, project representative Preston Mitchell explained that there are three documented lynching incidents in Wise County, two of which involved Coeburn residents.
In 1902, Wiley Guynn, a resident of Bondtown, was arrested for allegedly attempting to carry off a young girl. Before he could be jailed, a mob captured him, intending to lynch him. Guynn attempted to escape and was shot to death.
In 1927, the last documented lynching in Virginia took place. Leonard Woods, an African-American miner, was accused of shooting to death Herschel Deaton, a mine engineer from Coeburn. A large group of white men broke Woods out of the Whitesburg, Ky. jail and took him to Jenkins, then to Pound Gap, where he was hanged, shot and his body burned.
Mitchell explained that early this year, the General Assembly passed House Joint Resolution 655, which recognized “with profound regret” the history of lynching in Virginia.
The Alabama-based Equal Justice Initiative has documented thousands of lynchings that took place in the U.S. between 1877 and 1950. More than 80 took place in Virginia.
The EJI has a memorial garden containing 805 coffin-sized iron icons representing 805 counties where lynchings took place, Mitchell said. One of them includes the three Wise County victims. The EJI encourages localities to claim their monuments and install them in the counties where incidents took place, Mitchell explained. Also, localities are urged to place a historical marker that calls attention to the events.
Local participants are interested in placing a marker at the county courthouse once local communities are ready to get on board, he said.
A core group of participants met in early June at the University of Virginia’s College at Wise, Mitchell noted. Now, members are asking individual Wise County towns to consider passing resolutions of support for the effort, he said.
“We realize these are very uncomfortable conversations,” Mitchell said.
To learn more or contribute to the effort, contact Mitchell at email@example.com.