When my daughter was little, she taught me a great deal about patience. As she’s grown and evolved into the woman she is today, she’s shown me how to look at the world through a wider lens. Her work over the last two-plus years bears witness to her ability to see life outside of herself. Her fierce demand for justice provides space for the experiences of others. She has the bravery required to not only acknowledge horrific realities in our history, but the diligence to take action when she sees a wrong that demands notice. You can read below the speech she wrote for the unveiling of the memorial she worked so hard to help make happen. In a perfect world, she would have been present to read them. In a perfect world, we could have invited the public to join this momentous and remarkable ceremony. Today’s world is not perfect. But seeing this new monument being unveiled in Walker County Georgia sure felt exceptional.
It is an honor to welcome you here to the dedication of Henry White’s memorial. My name is Emma Jones. I graduated from Ridgeland high school right down the road in 2016 and even more recently graduated from Furman University. As many of you know, this memorial has been in the works for two years. What began as a small meeting between myself, David Boyle, and Beverly Foster at this very house quickly evolved into a widely spread coalition incorporating local government, churches, educators, and more. There are far too many supporters I could thank, but to name a few, I would like to especially thank my family, my fiancé, and the teachers of the Ridgeland High School Honors Academy, all of whom well-equipped and encouraged me toward a life of asking questions and making change. I would also like to thank the Equal Justice Initiative for their loyal partnership – in many ways, this never would have come to fruition without them.
I was a sophomore in college when I visited the National Memorial for Peace and Justice in Montgomery, Alabama. At the time, I was also working in a high-security juvenile prison where I witnessed the effects of the deeply rooted racism in our country firsthand. When I learned that Henry White had been lynched in our county, I was disappointed because I know this to be a place where we highly value local history. How was I familiar with the origins of this land, the battles that occurred here, the civil war officers esteemed, and commemorated throughout this town, and yet I did not know about the man who had been lynched here without any acknowledgment of his fundamental American rights to due process. So, I got to work – partly because I believe that in order to implement positive change in our communities, we must acknowledge the victories as well as the horrendous injustices in our past. Disregarding the latter not only prevents our growth as a society but sends a very clear, discouraging message to the black women and men of our community. I initiated the forming of this coalition because above all, I believed that any movement toward racial reconciliation could not be made by myself. It would require the diverse collaboration of Walker County citizens of different ages, races, and political stances. Thus, the purpose of this memorial is reconciliation with our history and healing with one another – to spread awareness and education within ourselves.
Recently, I read a book in which the central question is very simple but very important to consider in this day and age no matter who you are – “Because of what I know, what will I do?”. Far too often in American history, the answer to this question as it applies to racial injustice has been to do nothing but perhaps a tokenistic effort here and there to appease the demands of our cultural moment. Even the last six months of heightened racial tension in America have indicated, however, that it will take much more than a memorial plaque to bring healing and equity to racial relations in our nation, which is why I urge you not to let your own efforts toward reconciliation end here. Instead, allow being here to push you toward action, toward empathy for your neighbor and a genuine love for those you may not understand yet. Most importantly, I hope you will honor the late Henry White by fighting against the modern injustices that young black Americans face today, particularly in our education and justice systems.
I invite you to look upon this memorial, truly take in the words, and ask yourself “because of what I know, what will I do?”.