Bearing Witness

by John Vodicka

“In most places, when people hear about or see something that is a symbol or representation or evidence of slavery or the slave trade or lynching, the instinct is to cover it up, to get rid of it, to destroy it.” 

Bryan Stevenson 

I’ve decided to step back from the rigorous courtwatching I’ve been doing these last several years and devote more time to other matters. One of those areas of interest is lynching, in particular northeast Georgia’s history of extrajudicial killings of African Americans. In the past several years, we’ve held two “remembrance vigils” – one in Watkinsville, the other in Athens – to recognize some of the many victims of lynching in this part of the state.   

Another vigil will take place on Saturday. During the lynching remembrance ceremony on Dec. 4, 2021, we will call the names of Aron Birdsong, Wes Hale and George Lowe. These three African Americans were lynched on December 4, 1921, 100 years ago, by an Oconee County posse/mob. This Saturday from noon-1 p.m. we’ll gather as near to the actual lynching site as we can.

The killings happened along Lampkin Branch Creek, off of Georgia Highway 53, across from the entrance to Harris Shoals Park, just west of downtown Watkinsville. We’ll gather at the site to remember these three victims of mob violence, place flowers and homemade markers with their names and date of death, and gather soil from the site.

The remembrance vigil will begin at Harris Shoals Park just off Ga. 53. Arrive at 11:45 a.m. and park to the right, near the entrance; just beyond the parking lot is a covered picnic shelter, where we will assemble. From the shelter, we will travel a short distance to Lampkin Branch Creek, where we’ll lay flowers, place markers and gather soil. 

The previous two lynching remembrance services were in June 2020 to lift up the nine victims of the 1905 mass lynching that happened in downtown Watkinsville, and this past February when we remembered the man who was taken from the Clarke County jail and later burned at the stake on the Clarke/Oconee county line, also 100 years ago in February 1921.