NEWBERRY – On Saturday, Feb. 28, Country Way Town Square hosted a new event that was organized and staffed by students from Newberry High School. Country Way is a housing community located just south of the school, but its spacious town square also has become a popular venue for larger special events. In the past two years, it has hosted the Newberry Watermelon Fest, rodeos and music events. This time it was the Newberry Soulfest, an event that was part festival and part cultural history event.
Organized by the students at Newberry High School, it was a celebration of African-American history and heritage. It was also an event to raise money for students in the African American history class to go to Montgomery, Alabama to visit the Equal Justice Initiative and Memorial.
The memorial opened to the public on April 26, 2018, and is the nation’s first memorial dedicated to the legacy of African American slavery, people terrorized by lynching, and the struggle for equal rights from reconstruction to the Civil Rights Movement.
Set on a six-acre site, the memorial uses sculpture, art, and design to illustrate the racial inequality that existed in America from the beginning of slavery to the Civil Rights movement. The site includes a memorial square with 800 six-foot monuments to symbolize thousands of racial lynching victims in the United States and the counties and states where this terrorism took place. Montgomery is also the birthplace of the Civil Rights movement, which started with an incident in 1955 where Rosa Parks, an African American woman refused to give up her bus seat to a white man and was arrested. Martin Luther King was a pastor in Montgomery and helped organize a bus boycott among the African American community, which led to the Supreme Court ruling that segregation on buses was illegal.
Alachua County had its own share of lynchings in the late 1800s to mid-1920s, including the infamous “Newberry Six” incident on Aug. 18, 1916. The episode began with the attempt on Aug. 17 by Newberry constable George Wynne to serve a warrant on Boisey Long, an African American man, for stealing hogs.
Accounts differ how the conflict began and who fired first, but Long shot and killed Wynne, and wounded another man, Dr. L. G. Harris, who had accompanied him. Long escaped, but was captured two days later.
In the meantime, a posse was organized by the sheriff. They then shot and killed Jim Dennis, a friend of Long. The sheriff claimed Dennis was resisting arrest. Relatives and friends of Long were rounded up and taken to jail for allegedly helping him escape; they were Bert and Mary Dennis, Long's wife, Stella Young, and two friends of Dennis, Andrew McHenry and Reverend Josh Baskin.
A mob of 200 took them from the jail the morning of Aug. 18 and hanged them from a single oak tree, one mile from Newberry. Newspapers called it "a lynching bee." A newspaper also reported that the coroner's jury had returned a verdict that the seven lynching victims had died in freak accidents, such as running into a barbed wire fence and bleeding to death, or falling out of a tree and choking to death or breaking their necks.
Long was tried on Sept. 7, found guilty in seven minutes by an all-white jury and sentenced to hang. He was executed in the yard of the Alachua County jail on Oct. 27, 1916.
The Newberry Soulfest featured live music, food vendors and other forms of family entertainment such as a giant Jenga game, face painting and a football toss game. All proceeds were for the students’ trip to Montgomery. The event was also to raise awareness of what life was like for African Americans in their struggle for equality.
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