COLUMBIA — Everyone in the audience at the Gaines/Oldham Black Culture Center sat in reverent silence as name after name of Missouri lynching victims scrolled across the screen.

The words that had been performed minutes before, "Horror, horror, horror," still resonated in the room, as did historical descriptions of gruesome lynchings.

About 100 people gathered for the event "Lest We Forget: Lynching at the Stewart Road Bridge" Friday night at the Black Culture Center. The event was sponsored by The Association of Black Graduate and Professional Students in honor of Black History Month, and to honor African-Americans who had died from lynchings and other violent acts.

The event began with two video clips: a video of Jill Scott performing "Strange Fruit," a song most famously sung by black jazz singer Billie Holiday, and part of a documentary that gave the history of lynching in Missouri. Afterward, Keona Ervin, an MU assistant professor in African-American history, educated the audience about the history of lynching and compared it to violence in the U.S. today. 

The main event was MU master's student Brianna* Walker and local poet Monica Hand performing the play "The Missouri Horror" by David Crespy. The play depicted the 1923 lynching of James T. Scott in Columbia.

Scott was arrested for allegedly sexually assaulting 14-year-old Regina Almstedt, daughter of MU German professor Hermann Almstedt. According to her testimony, Regina Almstedt was allegedly forced into the woods by a black man, who said he thought a white man had stolen his wife. She said the black man wanted to get even by ruining a white woman. Almstedt said in her testimony she managed to hit her assailant in the face with her umbrella before he tightened a belt around her neck and punched her in the face several times.

Regina Almstedt escaped, and as she made her way home to her parents, she was thought to have fainted several times along the way. Other than a torn dress and bruises and cuts on her head and body, she did not have any other injuries, according to previous Missourian reporting.

Five days later, a witness claimed to have seen Scott near the area on the day of the assault. Scott was a janitor at MU — a prestigious job for black men during that time. He was a widower with three children when he came to Columbia in 1920 and married Gertrude Carter a year later. Some of his friends called him "Scottie." 

Regina Almstedt identified Scott as her attacker, and he was charged with attempted rape. But according to Almstedt's testimony, her attacker was beaten about the head. Scott had no injuries. The attacker had also said a white man had stolen his wife, and Scott was happily married. Scott pleaded innocence and hired an attorney, his life depending on a fair trial.

At 10 p.m. April 28 men gathered at the county jail to ask the sheriff for Scott, but the sheriff refused, and the men dispersed. An hour later the men regrouped at the main entrance determined to get through the doors. Women and children, joined by a few black residents, watched as an estimated 500 men removed the first and second doors of the jail with an acetylene blowtorch, entered Scott's cell, and dragged him out with a noose around his neck.

The judge and prosecutor told the men they would give a "swift justice" if they released Scott, but the mob decided to take him to the Stewart Road Bridge to be hanged.

At the bridge, Scott pleaded innocent, but the mob refused to listen. While some men went off to find a longer rope, Charles Nutter, a 20-year-old student at MU, tried to persuade the men to see reason. Even Hermann Almstedt walked through the mob and told them to let Scott go.

Minutes later, the men pushed Scott over the bridge railing. The rope killed him instantly.

In 2011, 88 years after Scott's death, the James T. Scott Monument Committee organized a memorial celebration to give him a voice. The event began with a processional that ended at the Columbia Cemetery, where a new headstone marking Scott's grave was unveiled, according to previous Missourian reporting. On the back is a paragraph about Scott's death, as well as a pledge from Columbia residents to live in peace.

Today, the Association of Black Graduate and Professional Students said it is working to place a "Lest We Forget" marker near Providence and Stewart roads.

Angela Speck, one of the contributors to the "Lest We Forget" event, said she would like to see some of the performances again when the marker goes up. She added it is important to come to events like the one Friday if people want to understand the problems happening in the U.S. today. 

On the programs and event information, the Association of Black Graduate and Professional Students cited a quote by Maya Angelou: "History, despite its wrenching pain, cannot be unlived, but if faced with courage, need not be lived again."

Supervising editor is Katie Kull

  • Public safety/health reporter, spring 2016 | Undergraduate magazine arts and culture journalism | Reach me at karlee.renkoski@mail.missouri.edu or in the newsroom at 882-5720 Twitter: @Karlee_Renko

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