‘We Remember Tyler’ advocates for lynching memorial on downtown square

The East Texas group is advocating for a memorial on the site of the new Smith County courthouse to remember victims of lynching in downtown Tyler.
Published: Feb. 23, 2023 at 6:42 PM CST

TYLER, Texas (KLTV) - During Black History Month, the group ‘We Remember Tyler’ is advocating for a lynching memorial to be built in downtown Tyler. They want it placed alongside other memorials in front of what will be the new Smith County courthouse. They took the first steps by donating the only photographic evidence of a lynching on the courthouse grounds to the Smith County Historical Society.

The group’s leader, Carolyn Davis, says seeing the photo makes it feel like more of a reality, and uncovers the often unseen dark past in Tyler.

“We really think that everything in Tyler is well, for all people, and has always been well, and a photo like that shows us that that’s simply not the case,” says Davis.

The recently discovered photo negative shows eighteen-year-old Jim Hodge, who was murdered on the Tyler square during the construction of the 1909 courthouse. It took place in the southwest corner of the present-day courthouse.

Associate leader, Charles Parkes III, reflects on the first-hand stories about Klan rallies in East Texas told to him by his grandfather.

“This type of situation really kept the black community in a perpetual state of fear,” says Parkes. “There were certain parts of town you didn’t go to, you watched out who you were with, where you were at; you basically self-segregated out of a sense of self-preservation.”

‘We Remember Tyler’ says they don’t have the design worked out yet, but will include the words, “justice and mercy”, which is what they say they seek.

“Something that just tells the words, mentions the fact that there were people lynched,” says Davis. “Mention their names, because those names, as far as I’m aware of, have never been mentioned.”

They hope the memorial will generate conversation about the dark history that they believe many in Smith County are unaware of.

“It is important to remember not only history, but specifically local history,” says Parkes. “If Tyler is going to grow and move forward, we must be mindful of the mistakes made in the past so we can build a brighter, more inclusive and more inspiring future.”

The group hopes to have the plan added to the commissioners court agenda by June for discussion and consideration.