ROANOKE, Va. – After years of work and attention to detail, the Roanoke Equal Justice Initiative has unveiled its first historical marker dedicated to honoring the victim of a lynching that happened in the city.
Driving down Franklin Road SW, you’ll now see a new blue historical marker telling the story of Thomas Smith.
For many years, the story of Smith was untold.
In 1893 Smith was accused of assaulting a woman. After news broke out about his arrest, an angry mob of 4,000 to 5,000 people removed Smith from his jail cell and lynched him. His body was later taken down by the Roanoke River and burned.
One of the goals of the Roanoke Equal Justice Initiative is to tell stories about the history of the city in order to prevent anything like it from occurring in the future.
Chairwoman of the imitative, Dr. Brenda Hale, said it’s important that people in the area learn about those stories.
“We all want a better Roanoke. We want an inclusive Roanoke. We don’t want to see anybody discriminated against. We don’t want people to suffer from bias and we sure don’t want to see people suffer from hate,” Hale said.
Dozens of people gathered for the unveiling of Smith’s marker, including some of his family members, like Teresa Scruggs.
Scruggs mentioned her great-grandmother would always tell the story about Smith, but she had no idea there was this amount of effort to remember her relative.
“It really feels good. It makes you feel warm … your heart smiles inside to know your ancestors didn’t die in vain,” Scruggs said.
It took three years for the Roanoke Equal Justice Initiative to get its first historical marker. They are continuing to finalize getting another one that would honor the life of William Lavender, who was also lynched in the city.
“We worked diligently. We crossed every T and dotted every I and we did all the things in a right and decent manner and this is the end result,” Hale said. “When people drive by and look at this, then they will know that we’re honoring, not accusing somebody, not hating somebody, but honoring the death of somebody that died horrifically.”