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A Sarasota historical marker will commemorate victims of racial violence

A blue memorial marker with inscription titled 'Racial Terror Lynching In America'
Equal Justice Initiative
Local communities partner with the Equal Justice Initative in Montgomery Alabama to create markers honoring victims of lynching. One in Sarasota will soon be dedicated.

Prior to 1921, Sarasota was a part of Manatee County. During that time, there were six known victims of lynchings in this area. A historical marker will be placed in Sarasota to memorialize the victims.

In 1910, a white woman in Manatee County accused a Black man of speaking to her in what she called an "inappropriate manner." According to The Tampa Tribune, 20-year-old Willie English was then arrested. 

Four days later, a mob of at least 40 white men surrounded the Manatee County Jail. They kidnapped English, who was shot to death and then hung from a tree. 

Caryl Sheffield of the Sarasota & Manatee Community Remembrance Project says a memorial was conceived as a site where people can reflect on America’s history of racial injustice. 

"I also think it’s important for people to reflect on the trauma,” said Sheffield. “African Americans lived in fear of their lives every day during that period of time and still to some extent, we live with that fear." 

When Sheffield was in junior high school, she learned that her paternal grandfather had been lynched in Georgia in 1915.

At least 14 states, including Florida, have passed legislation since 2022 restricting how educators can discuss the nation's racial past.

"It's really important for us to have this monument to lynching victims so we don't forget,” said Sheffield. "Especially given the climate today, particularly in Florida where there's such an attack on African American history.” 

Dan Boxer of the nonprofit Boxer Diversity Initiative in Sarasota is one of the groups behind the memorial project. 

He says the banning of DEI programs in state universities has brought more attention to groups advancing racial equality. 

"What has been going in Florida has actually, I would say, enhanced the work we do," Boxer said. "People want to get involved. I think our community is hungry for this." 

In January, the board that oversees Florida's 12 public universities signed off on a ban using state or federal dollars for diversity programs or activities, aligning with a law signed last year by Gov. Ron DeSantis.

A memorial stone with inscription
Equal Justice Initiative’s Legacy Museum
The memorial project is a collaboration with The Equal Justice Initiative’s Legacy Museum and National Memorial for Peace and Justice in Montgomery Alabama.

Boxer says the local historical marker project is part of a national observance where victims of racial violence have been named, their histories recorded and soil collected from lynching sites. 

According to the Alabama-based Equal Justice Initiative, approximately 4,000 people were lynched in the South from 1877 to 1950.

The organization has documented the six victims of lynching in the Manasota area:

  • Henry Thomas — March 8, 1903
  • Sam Ellis — March 7, 1910
  • Wade Ellis — March 7, 1910
  • Mr. Ruddy — March 8, 1910
  • William English — July 1, 1912
  • James Franklin — April 4, 1934 

The Sarasota memorial will include a seated meditation area. It will be dedicated Saturday, Feb. 24, at The Unitarian Universalist Church on Fruitville Road. 
Although the event is sold out, the ceremony will be live-streamed starting at 11 a.m.

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