1,000 people watched Black Henry Howard being lynched in Coshocton Court Square in 1885
COSHOCTON — More than 60 people attended a June 16 at Coshocton County Court Square on Saturday where a new historical marker was unveiled.
One side of the marker tells the story of Henry Howard, a black man who was lynched by a crowd of about 1,000 outside the courthouse in 1885. The other side of the marker contextualizes this lynching as part of a widespread practice of racial terrorism that claimed the lives of more than 6,500 black Americans between 1865 and 1950.
The marker is the culmination of a nearly two-year effort by Coshoctonians for Peace and Equality (CPE), a grassroots racial justice group founded in the summer of 2020 by county residents Javanna Ramsey and Lucy Malenke.
It’s also the latest step in a community remembrance project CPE has been conducting in partnership with the Equal Justice Initiative (EJI), a national nonprofit that works with communities across the country to help documented victims of racist violence throughout history commemorate and encourage meaningful dialogue about race and justice today.
Other elements of this project included a soil collection ceremony at Howard’s Lynch Grounds in June 2021 and racial justice art and essay contests for area high schoolers with prizes worth thousands of dollars this spring.
According to Luncy Malenke, getting approval for the marker was a long process. She said she put in many hours of research, including locating historical newspaper clippings and speaking with Coshocton County residents whose ancestors had witnessed the lynching or its aftermath. She also interviewed 100-year-old Lula Williams of Coshocton County, who recalled that Henry Howard’s toe was on display at CD Brooke’s jewelry store on Main Street well into the 20th century.
“Once we had adequate documentation of what happened, we worked with the Coshocton County Board of Commissioners and the Equal Justice Initiative to formulate the marker,” Malenke said. “We also had to seek approval from Judge Robert Batchelor because the marker is on the courthouse grounds.”
At Saturday’s unveiling ceremony, Malenke and Javanna Ramsey discussed why it was important to erect this historic marker.
Malenke said the stories people tell (and those people don’t tell) shape their community’s identity. She said: “Every single one of us who lives in this place has to come to terms with this legacy: 136 years ago, the white residents of this town walked out of the justice system and lynched a black man who never got a fair trial, who never got has examined his alibi whose body was desecrated. His name was Henry Howard. What did he symbolize then? And what does it symbolize now?”
Ramsey said: “This historical marker, telling the story of Henry Howard, is a chance to admit the truth of our past, the truth that 1,000 people turned out to see him tortured and killed – officials, pastors, distinguished businessmen, parents. That history is to be reckoned with if people of color are ever to feel truly safe and fully welcome in this place.”
Cyan Blackwell, an EJI Judicial Officer, traveled from Montgomery, Alabama to attend the unveiling ceremony. During her speech, she said most people like to imagine that if they had been present at a lynching, they would have stood up to it — or if they had been alive during the civil rights era, they would have been with Martin Luther King Jr marches.
She then challenged the crowd to think about how they could stand up against injustices that exist today, such as mass incarceration, which are rooted in the same history as slavery, lynching and segregation. Blackwell encouraged participants to view the historical marker not as the end but as the beginning of the ongoing work of restorative truth-telling.
At the event, Za’nyah Muhammad, an aspiring eleventh grader, received a plaque and $2,000 for winning this spring’s CPE Racial Justice Essay Contest. She read part of her award-winning essay, Discrimination Toward Black Women in Healthcare.
The event also included a speech by Mayor Mark Mills, a performance by Ridgewood High School choir Syntax Error, a narration of the story of Juneteenth by local children’s book author Brittany Mbaye and three of her children, and an open mic time with African American community members shared stories and reflections.
“One of the things I’m most proud of about the work we’ve done in this community is the way it has brought together people from all walks of life,” Malenke said. “Our nation is so divided right now, but this project involved people from across the political spectrum, ages, classes, backgrounds and religious beliefs. It’s heartening to know that the people of this community can work together to acknowledge something terrible that happened in our past and work toward a brighter future.”
Ramsey said she sees an “opportunity for change from…true story being shared” and she is “grateful to be a part of something that is creating conversation and positive change in our community.”