Lynchings were a not-so-well kept secret and core part of American history. For decades, Black people were terrified that they could be taken out of their homes or jail cells by a mob of angry white people in the middle of the night and killed. Perhaps the worst part is that no one would ever be held accountable for it.

To make amends for creating this unease and fear in the Black community, a Georgia police chief publicly apologized for a September 1940 lynching. 

Police Chief Louis Dekmar of LaGrange, Ga. had never heard of Austin Callaway until an elderly Black woman walked into the police station a few months ago. She saw a picture of older police officers and reportedly said, “Those are the ones who killed our people.”

She also told Dekmar the story of how Callaway, who was 18 at the time, was taken out of the local jail one night after being accused of assaulting a white women. He was taken out to the woods and shot, despite no investigation ever being made into the woman’s death.

“It was as if it was erased from the memory of the white community,” Dekmar, who is white, told Reuters. “But the black community still remembers, and I want to acknowledge that this happened and it was wrong.”

To help heal the community of a very old wound, Dekmar held a public event on Thursday evening at a United Methodist Church in the community.

“I, on behalf of the Lagrange Police Department and the city of Lagrange, want to acknowledge the police department’s failure to take crucial action in its obligation to protect Austin Callaway on Sept. 8, 1940,” he said to a mixed crowd. “An acknowledgment and apology is necessary to aid in healing wounds of past brutalities and injustice.”

It’s difficult enough to get police departments to acknowledge recent wrongdoings. But going out of their way to apologize for something that happened more than 75 years ago is almost unheard of.

“This is significant,” said E.M. Beck, a professor at the University of Georgia who studies race relations. “I’m hoping other police departments will have the courage and spine to do the same.”

We hope so too.

Photo Credit: Wiki Commons