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A new historical marker honors a Morehouse student who was lynched

 

Dennis Hubert’s story was a fading memory, before a community of dozens of Atlantans resurrected it

Story and photos by Emanuella Grinberg

 

 

August 12, 2022

 

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LIKE MANY GRADUATES of Morehouse College, Michael Tyler is familiar with Dr. Charles Hubert, the minister, professor, and administrator for whom a campus residence is named. But Tyler, a 1977 alum, only recently learned about the lynching of Hubert’s nephew and the historic trial of his killers.

 

Dennis Hubert was the victim of a racial terror lynching in 1930, eight years before Charles Hubert became interim president of the historically Black men’s college. A rising sophomore and Morehouse divinity student in the tradition of his uncle and father, research indicates that Dennis Hubert was shot to death on a school playground by a white mob that wrongly accused him of harassing a white woman.

 

“During my time at Morehouse, Dennis Hubert may have been president of Morehouse College,” Tyler said. “Many of us resided in Hubert Hall never knowing the horror of the story.”

 

What started as a Georgia State University graduate school project in 2018 has grown into a community of dozens of Atlantans who are resurrecting Hubert’s story, making it a part of the city’s historic memory. The Fulton County Remembrance Coalition brings people together from across the metro area to memorialize Fulton County’s known lynching victims. Dennis Hubert is the 36th and most recent person honored by FCRC, making him the focus of recent public commemorations, artwork, and a forthcoming historical marker

 

Tyler learned about Hubert and the FCRC after visiting the Legacy Museum and the National Memorial for Peace and Justice in Montgomery, Alabama. The sister sites explore America’s history of racial injustice through exhibits on enslavement, racial terror lynchings, and segregation. Both are supported by the Equal Justice Initiative, the nonprofit law organization started by noted attorney Bryan A. Stevenson that focuses on human rights in the criminal justice system.

 

Through its Community Remembrance Project, EJI partners with groups like FCRC to memorialize lynching victims, be it through research for a memorial, a panel discussion, or the creation of a historical marker. EJI encourages people to participate in “restorative truth-telling” in their communities about the legacy of slavery, lynchings, and racial segregation

 

Tyler felt inspired to join the call to action. He began attending panel discussions and soil collections organized by FCRC dedicated to different lynching victims. Soil collections are a key ritual in FCRC’s commemorations, a way to connect the past with present through the blood-soaked earth. Soil was collected from the site of Hubert’s death of what used to be the Crogman School for Negroes—now, Crogman School Lofts—in Atlanta’s Pittsburgh neighborhood. Presently, a jar from Hubert’s soil collection resides in Auburn Avenue Research Library, the site of many FCRC gatherings.

 

One steamy June afternoon, organizers pulled out Hubert’s jar for a vigil to mark the 92nd anniversary of his lynching. Tyler was among those who returned to Pittsburgh under gathering storm clouds for the event. Organizers greeted participants with bouquets of flowers at a school playground close to where Hubert was killed. Some wove the bouquets into the playground’s chain-linked fence while others placed them around the soil jar resting on the floor. 

Ann Hill-Bond helped organize the vigil for lynching victim Dennis Hubert on the 92nd anniversary of his shooting death by a racist mob.

Soon enough, the sky opened up and participants huddled under shared umbrellas to hear Hubert’s story.

 

“We started this coalition back in 2018—it was a group of us—to not only remember these people who were lynched in acts of racial terror but also to understand how these acts of racial terror have shaped Atlanta and shaped the injustices that we still experience today,” said Allison Bantimba, a co-founder of FCRC.

 

According to FCRC’s research, seven white men confronted Hubert on the playground of the Crogman School for Negroes. One of them shot Hubert in the head

 

Lynchings were common back then; arrests and trials, less so. But Bantimba said that as the son of a prominent Black minister, Hubert’s death drew unprecedented media attention and public outrage. When one of the men involved was convicted, the New York Times ran the headline “Atlanta Aroused By A Murder Case: Slaying of a Negro Student Stirs Strong Racial Feeling.” 

 

In turn, white supremacists burned Hubert’s family home and tear-gassed a prayer service at Wheat Street Baptist Church, according to FCRC’s research. Yet Hubert’s mother continued working at the school where her son was killed, even becoming principal in a testament to her strength and resolve, Bantimba said at the vigil.

 

Eventually, Hubert’s story faded from the public consciousness. FCRC wants to change that by encouraging people to engage with Hubert’s story and those of other lynching victims through ways that speak to their interests, like the five women who stitched together quilts that relay lynching accounts through pictures

 

Another person at the Hubert vigil, Sean Jones, also connected with FCRC after visiting EJI. He has attended numerous memorializations over the years for different lynching victims. But he connected with Hubert’s story on a personal level as a 1998 Morehouse graduate, and he’s in talks with his alma mater to amplify Hubert’s legacy on campus. He’s also working on incorporating Hubert’s story into the archive of the Association for the Study of African American Life and History, the longstanding research coalition of which he’s the president of the Atlanta branch. He wants to see accounts of individual lynchings memorialized in history books, school curriculums and more public commemorations. 

 

“The truth has to be told, and the truth of the African American experience is one that’s been suppressed, manipulated, lied, drug through the mud, and sullied beyond recognition,” Jones said at the vigil. “We do our children a disservice by saying that something like this is too painful to talk about, and if that’s the case these narratives will always be suppressed.”

 

Dennis Hubert’s nephew understands the impulse to bury painful memories in the past. Imam Plemon El-Amin said his mother did not discuss the details of her brother’s tragic death until late in her life, likely from a mix of sadness and shame. But he feels strongly that his uncle’s story needs to be out in the open if America is going to break its cycle of racism and racial violence. 

 

“I’m conscious that you have to expose these kinds of things if you ever want to bring an end to it,” he said.

 

That’s why he’s excited about the historical marker that’s set to be unveiled in his uncle’s honor on August 17. FCRC is working with Atlanta Public Schools to place it on the playground of his last vigil near the place where he was killed. 

 

“A lot of people have this tragic history in their families, but a lot of it may be overlooked or forgotten,” El-Amin said. “Dennis’ death represents one of many, so we have to make sure that this is understood.”

 

DisclosureFCRC member Ann Hill-Bond is a Canopy Atlanta Senior Fellow and member of our Community Engagement team.

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