The police chief in LaGrange, Georgia apologized on Thursday for his department’s role in the 1940 lynching of a Black man, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports.
That apology, which historians believe is unprecedented for a southern police chief, came at a remembrance ceremony for the victim, Austin Callaway. The newspaper said the city’s mayor and local NAACP president were expected to attend the event.
LaGrange Police Chief Lou Dekmar, who is white, told the AJC that lynchings “represented injustice” to the victim and created distrust in the Black community toward law enforcement.
“I think an acknowledgement and apology is needed to help us understand how the past forms and impacts the present,” he added. “It makes it clear what was done was wrong.”
Callaway, believed to be about 18 years old, was accused of assaulting a White woman. A posse of White men grabbed him from the LaGrange city jail. They drove him into the countryside and violently killed him.
The newspaper said the event was essentially “scrubbed from the city record,” as though it never happened. There was no criminal investigation and no probe into the police department’s complicity in the lynching.
Police departments throughout the south routinely turned Blacks over to lynch mobs, an expert told the AJC. And since cases were seldom recorded or investigated, memory of lynchings typically faded over time.
Indeed, more than 75 years later, few LaGrange residents remember the incident. In Callaway’s case, however, The New York Times published a brief story in 1940 about the lynching.
Dekmar said he learned about it a couple of years ago after a detective overheard two older Black women taking about the past.