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A memorial for Hillsborough lynching victims is coming

“A good community does not run from its history,” said Tampa City Councilman Luis Viera, who supports a memorial.

TAMPA — Two are known only as Adam and Galloway.

The others are John Crooms, Lewis Jackson, Samuel Arline and Robert Johnson.

Most Hillsborough County residents have never heard of these men.

But a newly formed committee made up of local elected officials, historians, pastors and civil rights leaders wants to change that.

Each man was a local African-American victim of a racial lynching; the lynchings took place here from the 1850s through the early 1900s.

They are symbols of the violent means white supremacists employed to intimidate black residents.

The committee will one day etch those names on a historic marker that will memorialize the county’s lynching victims and educate the public on that sad chapter of local history.

“Our past is disturbing but it shouldn’t be surprising,” said Tampa City Councilman Luis Viera who serves on the lynching memorial committee alongside State Rep. Fentrice Driskell, historian Fred Hearns, former Hillsborough NAACP president Carolyn Hepburn-Collins, Allen Temple A.M.E. Church pastor Glenn Dames and others.

“We have to know our history," Viera said. "A good community acknowledges its history. A good community does not run from its history. We live up to that history.”

The process is still in its early stages, Viera said.

The committee, which formed six months ago, has yet to decide on a location or whether they will seek a statue, a wall of some sort, or one of the green, county-approved plaques that tell local history and are seen throughout Hillsborough.

Lynching victims Galloway, Grooms, Jackson, Arline and Johnson are already listed on the National Lynching Memorial in Montgomery, Ala.

And Adam has a grave marker in downtown Tampa’s Oaklawn Cemetery that reads “Adam a black slave lynched Dec. 16, 1859.”

Still, said Councilman Viera, “We need to do more to tell this story. We view this not as a point of division but rather as a point of healing, a point of dialogue and a point of knowing all our history."

The story of lynching victim Johnson is told in detail in old newspaper clippings.

In 1934, he was arrested for assaulting a white woman but not charged, according to news archives.

But he was guilty of stealing chickens.

As he was was being transferred to a city jail, Johnson was kidnapped by three men and shot dead.

Ludd Spivey, president of Florida Southern College at the time, told newspapers that it was the worst crime committed in Florida within the last 150 years.

“If such brutality is the final consequence of civilization,” he said, “then I don’t care for it.”

But neither the city of Tampa nor Hillsborough County should forget that it happened, said Councilman Viera.

“It is our history of suffering,” he said. “This is about honoring those who came before us and suffered, and it is about acknowledging our full history. We cannot ignore those parts that are disturbing.”