During the latest Statesboro City Council meeting, four men protested the council’s vote last month to allow a lynching memorial marker to be placed outside City Hall, and Mayor Jonathan McCollar replied.
The marker, a project of the Statesboro-Bulloch Remembrance Coalition in cooperation with the Montgomery, Alabama-based nonprofit Equal Justice Initiative, or EJI, has not been made or erected yet. After receiving a very rough draft of the text that included more information than will actually fit on the marker and hearing from Remembrance Coalition members, the City Council voted 4-0 on Feb. 21 approving an easement allowing the marker to be placed, eventually, on city property near the front of City Hall.
This topic was not on the March 21 agenda, but four of the five speakers who signed up to speak during the public comments opportunity for non-agenda topics spoke about the marker. Some of the speakers suggested that a marker be placed memorializing five members of the Hodges family murdered in 1904. In Bulloch County’s most infamous lynching, Will Cato and Paul Reed were found guilty by all-white juries in rapid trials on Aug. 15 and 16, 1904, and sentenced by a judge to be hanged at a later date. But a white mob then seized them – reportedly with assistance from some of those who were supposed to be guarding them – hauled them north of town and burned them at the stake.
However, the marker that the Remembrance Coalition has proposed would actually note nine local lynching victims, killed from 1886 to 1911. That includes three other Black men, not known to have been charged with crimes, murdered by groups of white people in August 1904.
The first of Tuesday evening’s four speakers was Jeffrey Marshall Webster, who administers a “White Heritage” social media group. During the Feb. 21 meeting he had been the one speaker against the marker.
“Council members, four weeks ago you approved an historical marker memorializing victims of lynching over a century ago, said marker to be paid for by Equal Justice Initiative, a far-left group funded by George Soros,” Webster said. “Two of the so-called victims on this marker are these men, Paul Reed and Will Cato, who in 1904 murdered Henry Hodges, pictured here with his family, in the course of a robbery.”
Back in 1904, Reed’s wife told a version of events that helped condemned her husband and Cato. Webster said that Reed and Cato raped and killed Hodges’ wife and their 8-year-old daughter who offered them a nickel to spare her life, and “set the house on fire and let the two baby boys burn to death.”
He said that some visitors to the Hodges’ grave leave nickels.
“For reasons of leftist ideology and shameless political pandering you have chosen not only to stir up racial animus, but to spit on the graves of the Hodges,” Webster said to the council. “I proposed that to ameliorate the desecration, you approve a marker on city property memorializing the Hodges. You have obviously declined to do that. …”
He then left a nickel on the lectern facing the council dais, a gesture repeated by at least two of the other speakers. The others were Jay Braswell, Randall Moon and Mike Mull.
Braswell said he was born in Bulloch County and plans to be buried here but hasn’t lived here in 50 years. He said that “people acted in the heat of the moment” in killing Reed and Cato and noted that this occurred 119 years ago.
Moon, Webster and Mull have been active in Sons of Confederate Veterans Ogeechee Rifles Camp 941, with Mull long serving as the group’s commander, but that organization wasn’t mentioned Tuesday.
“One thing this council is overlooking is the fact Will Cato and Paul Reed had been tried, convicted and sentenced to death by hanging for the murders of five members of the Henry Hodges family,” Mull said. “That’s more than Cato and Reed gave those five innocent people.”
Mull added that he would not say Cato and Reed got what they deserved because the Bible says, “Judge not, that ye be not judged,” but that the council should remember they “did not meet their fate for singing too loud at choir practice.”
Moon also talked about the Hodges murders and left a nickel.
The mayor then said he was taking “a point of privilege” to reply and that there had been “some misinformation” in regard to the marker.
“There is no glorification of any of the acts that occurred here,” McCollar said. “This is a body that’s not saying that we’re wanting to glorify anything, so let’s be clear with that.”
Of “the tragic incident that happened to the Hodges family, I’ll be the first to say that was a terrible, terrible matter,” he continued. “But what we’re talking about is lynching, not Cato and Reed. We’re talking about lynching, and those two men just so happened to be two of the nine people that were lynched, and it would be a totally different conversation if the state was able to execute its form of justice, but that’s not what occurred.”
After Cato and Reed were burned at the stake, “it didn’t stop there,” McCollar said. “That same body, for 30 days, for the month of August, went on to terrorize this community, and they didn’t lynch not one, not two, but three individuals. They beat and whipped people in this community. That is wrong, and that is what we are addressing.
“We’re not saying what happened to the Hodges family is excused by any act, but what we’re saying is the lynching that occurred in this community of those nine souls and other individuals that we can’t even identify was wrong,” he continued.
McCollar noted that Germany has memorials reflecting on the Nazi period and acknowledging that “what occurred to our Jewish brothers and sisters was wrong.”
Mull, saying he did not want to be misquoted, handed a copy of his remarks to the reporter after the meeting. In a second paragraph, which he had also recited to the mayor and council, Mull said “Charles Darwin had a good handle on the current woke culture” and recited what he indicated was a quote from Darwin:
“At some stage, the human species will divide. Whilst most will continue to evolve, a minority of these lacking the intellectual capacity of thought, will develop as a sub-species, being easily led, form into packs attempting to control the majority. They will deny biology, attempt to undo the centuries of human development by re-writing history and gradually reverting to their primate origins. …”
But PolitiFact, the fact-checking website operated by the Poynter Institute, in a check of this quote dated March 22 from a March 15 Facebook post that referred to it as “WOKE explained by Darwin,” judged it false as a Darwin quote. PolitiFact contributing writer Ciara O’Rourke stated that the quote doesn’t appear in any of five books or a series of essays by Darwin and that PoliFact couldn’t find other evidence of it online.
However, Webster was correct about George Soros, a well-known billionaire contributor to progressive or liberal causes, being a supporter of EJI. The New York Times reported July 13, 2020, that the Open Society Foundations, which Soros founded, was investing $220 million to programs aimed at achieving racial equality in the United States, including EJI.