Memorial honors lynching victim
Tamara Jenkins, 8, of Jefferson City places a wreath at James T. Scott’s headstone in Columbia Cemetery (Photo courtesy of the Columbia Daily Tribune/Joshua A. Bickel).
Months of hard work to publicly acknowledge the tragic death of a man killed during a racially charged incident 88 years ago culminated with an emotional memorial at Columbia Cemetery on April 30.
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James T. Scott, a black University of Missouri janitor accused of raping a 14-year-old white girl, was lynched by a mob in April 1923 before he had a chance to stand trial.
Scott’s gravesite at Columbia Cemetery attracted little interest before a book published last spring — “Summary Justice: The Lynching of James Scott and the Trial of George Barkwell” by Doug Hunt — brought new attention to the case. Among those who visited the cemetery after reading Hunt’s book was The Rev. Clyde Ruffin of Second Missionary Baptist Church.
When Ruffin was shown Scott’s gravesite by cemetery Superintendent Tanja Patton, he was struck by the small temporary marker placed there by a previous cemetery caretaker. The marker consisted of a used, chrome-plated nameplate with removable letters embedded in an 8-by-12-inch concrete slab. Ruffin thought it would be a good gesture to replace the temporary marker with something more permanent and dignified.
Over the summer, Ruffin and Patton discussed possible sizes and costs for a new headstone, and Ruffin approached church and community members with the idea. Soon, the James T. Scott Monument Fund committee was formed to raise money.
Media attention and a music concert helped the committee raise enough money for a monument for Scott and a second marker to honor slaves buried at Columbia Cemetery. The Board of Directors of the Columbia Cemetery Association donated ground for the slave memorial along with extra space around the Scott gravesite to accommodate landscaping donated by Joy Long, landscaping supervisor at Shelter Insurance Cos.
Heavy rains the week before the big event slowed the mowing and trimming of the cemetery grounds, but the staff put in extra hours to make sure the cemetery was at its most beautiful for the dedication.
On April 30, hundreds of people gathered for a memorial at Second Baptist Church at Fourth Street and Broadway then walked west on Broadway into the cemetery and to the Scott gravesite. A high-school marching band from Hazelwood led the way in the tradition of a New Orleans funeral procession. Limousines provided by local funeral homes carried those who could not walk.
The crowd surrounded Scott's grave, marked by a new, blue granite headstone, as Ruffin delivered a eulogy. The Rev. Donna Ellison sang a hymn, and floral wreaths were placed by two girls and a boy who represented James Scott’s children. A military honor guard folded the American flag and handed it to Ruffin, and a 21-gun salute recognized Scott’s WWI military service.
At the conclusion of the ceremony, attendees followed the marching band out of the cemetery, leaving a feeling of peace and satisfaction for a job well done.
monument remembers slaves buried in cemetery
A new monument dedicated to slaves buried at Columbia Cemetery, dedicated at the same time as the James T. Memorial, bears this inscription written by Jessie Adolph:
"In this sacred ground lie the
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kindred spirits of the past
whose dreams live
in fullness at last
We are vessels bearing their
hope in the fabric
of our existence
their seeds of sacrifice
a legacy of resiliance
Neither the scholar's ink nor
clock hands shall conceal their
light that guides those
enslaved and lost asunder
May their souls, known
and unknown, find eternal
solace and slumber."
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Tanja Patton, Superintendent
30 E. Broadway
Columbia, Mo., 65203
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