Exhibit Honors Memory of Racial Violence Victims
Anderson University and the surrounding community paid tribute to victims of racial violence between 1894 and 1911 as a sculpture exhibit by artist Herman Keith opened on the university campus.
Keith’s sculpture was commissioned by Anderson Area Remembrance and Reconciliation Initiative (AAR&RI) and has been on display at various sites around Anderson County, most recently at AnMed’s North Campus. The sculpture is a structure Keith fashioned out of wood and metal and designed to be in harmony with the art installation in tribute to Anderson County victims of racial violence at the Equal Justice Initiative’s National Memorial for Peace and Justice in Montgomery, Alabama.
During a gathering and unveiling event, “Remembrance & Reconciliation” September 21 at Anderson University, the memories of five Anderson County victims of racial violence were honored and the sculpture was unveiled at Thrift Library, where it can be seen by the public now through February 2024.
At the event were Anderson University administration, faculty, staff and students and also various community leaders.
The afternoon’s activities began with a program of solemn remembrance in the Daniel Recital Hall of Rainey Fine Arts Building. Giving welcoming remarks was Anderson University Vice President for Diversity, Community and Inclusion, Dr. James Noble.
“This sculpture is just one way our campus community has embraced our role as the hands and feet of Jesus. We hope this sculpture and our larger efforts promote kingdom diversity, will reflect the truth that Christ alone can heal every wound, dry every tear and mend every broken heart,” said Dr. Noble.
Associate Dean for Diversity, Community & Inclusion Kevin Williams talked about the Equal Justice Initiatve and its collaboration with community groups, the AAR&RI and Anderson University to travel to communities across the nation to collect soil from every lynching site as an act of remembrance and commitment to honoring these victims.
“While collecting soil from the site of a lynching is a simple gesture, we believe it is an important act of remembrance that can begin a process of recovery and reconciliation to our history of lynching and terror,” Williams said. “The named containers with collected soil that we create become important pieces of our broken and terrifying past. We believe these jars represent the hope of community members who seek racial justice and a greater commitment to the rule of law and human rights.”
Readings from Anderson University students and staff recalled the violent deaths of the victims: Edward Sullivan, who died December 12, 1894; Elbert Harris, who died May 20, 1898; John Laddison, who died November 24, 1901; Reuben Elrod, who died June 30, 1903; and Willis Jackson, who died October 10, 1911.
Anderson University alumnus Alphaeus Anderson and student Sincere Hatten provided music, as well as Dr. Ankoma Anderson, instructor of Chemistry at Anderson University and senior pastor of Welfare Baptist Church.
South Carolina School of the Arts Dean Dr. David Larson quoted Jesus’ words in Matthew 5:23-24, “Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to them; then come and offer your gift.”
Anderson University Professor Emeritus Dr. Stuart Sprague shared a history of reconciliation efforts spanning from immediately following Jackson’s death to the creation of the AAR&RI. Dr. Sprague recalled a condemning sermon preached by Anderson First Baptist Church and later Anderson President Dr. John F. Vines on the Sunday following Jackson’s death, noting that the participants in the violent act “taught much of defending virtue but are not themselves distinguished by virtue.” While there have been several efforts at reconciliation since, Dr. Sprague said disparities continue to exist in areas of “health, wealth, education, incarceration and other social measures.” He called for the audience to live out what Dr. Martin Luther King termed “beloved community.”
“When freedom, health and resources are shared by all, estrangement falls away, reconciliation can lead us to a beloved community. This is not only why the Anderson Area Remembrance and Reconciliation Initiative began, but also its sole purpose for continuing its work. We welcome Anderson University and all of the other organizations who would like to join us in this sacred effort,” Sprague said.
There was also a screening of the video “Finding Reuben,” a short documentary about victim Reuben Elrod produced by Anderson University students Destiny Donald, Adam Edwards, Zachary Freeman, Jordan Huffman, Morgan Lane and Ralyn Ligon under the guidance of Anderson University Media Communication Professor Bobby Rettew.
“The sculpture is more than a piece of artwork, it’s part of a larger movement,” said Anderson University President Dr. Evans Whitaker. “Anderson University is honored to be a part of the sculpture’s journey throughout our community and it will remain here through February so you can come and reflect here in this place.”
Keith said of his sculpture, “This subject matter, when you're dealing with a lynching and as an artist and you have to convey it visually to to the public, you do not want to offend anybody. You don't want anybody to feel bad. I do not want to do anything done by my hands to make anyone feel guilty… In a sense I want you to feel joy, because we have come a long way…
The subject matter here is dark… So Tim (McElveen) and I, as we were creating this work of art, we were operating through light. As a child, the first thing you want your parents to do in the morning, or at night, or in the middle of the day, sometimes is to come into your room and cut the light on. You always know where the light switch is. You can find the light switch in the dark, and once you turn the light on, it's very difficult to turn it off again.”
Dr. Noble led in a prayer and preparation of hearts before the sculpture was revealed.
About the AAR&RI:
In early 2020, a group of community members in Anderson County, South Carolina formed the Anderson Area Remembrance and Reconciliation Initiative (AAR&RI). The goal of the initiative is to honor the five known victims of racial terror in Anderson County by reflecting honestly on the history and legacy of racial and economic injustice. AAR&RI is working in partnership with the Equal Justice Initiative (EJI), headquartered in Montgomery, Alabama, to raise awareness and inspire action through dialogue, community education and public memorials to eliminate health and social disparities and move us toward the goal of a “Beloved Community” for all.
Details can be found at RemembranceAnderson.org.