COLUMBUS, Ga. (WRBL) – June 1 marks 126 years since the double lynching of Will Miles and Jesse Slayton in Columbus. The two black men were hung from a tree on 11th and Broadway.
On June 2, 1896 the newspaper read, “From the limbs of the same tree in the heart of the city and under the bright canopy of the mid-day sun now hang the bodies of Jess Slaton and Willie Miles.”
Slayton and Miles were two black men accused of assaulting two white women. America had just come out of the throes of the Reconstruction era. Racial tensions were high in Columbus and the rest of the south.
“The fear of African Americans was present again,” history teacher Mark Alexander shared. “The animosity, the anger, the assumptions that were negative in nature were taking over again and anything that had been said about you if you were African American was presumed to be true at that particular time.”
There was no due process. On June 1 an angry mob took matters into their own hands. They dragged Slayton from court and strung up his body on a tree. A second rope was thrown over the tree limb for Miles.
The two men hung in what is now Downtown Columbus.
Norman Hardman with the Mayor’s Commission on Unity, Diversity and Prosperity says the bodies stayed up there for hours; pictures were taken, eventually used for postcards.
For the city of Columbus, confronting a fractured past is a crucial step toward progress.
“I think it’s very important to be candid,” Hardman said. “Candid conversation… without candid conversation you don’t heal properly.”
The Mayor’s Commission on Unity, Diversity and Prosperity is working with the Equal Justice Initiative to place a historical marker near the lynching site – a project to be completed within the next year.
The marker will tell the story of Miles and Slayton, stories interwoven into the history of the Fountain City.