Austin Callaway was lynched in Georgia on September 8, 1940 and only received a mention on the last page of the LaGrange Daily News. And now 77 years later, his family is receiving an overdue apology.
Callaway’s death was never investigated and his family was left with questions. On Thursday, family, clergy and police gathered to remember the 16-year-old at the local church.
“Some would like to see us bury the past and move on,” said Mayor Jim Thornton. “Until we have a full and complete acknowledgment of the past we can never heal.”
LaGrange’s police Chief Louis Dekmar was the one to put the wheels in motion when it came to atoning for the town’s past.
“This is an acknowledgment and an apology,” Dekmar told those gathered in the church Thursday night.
“The past shapes the present,” he said.
“No one working here today is responsible for that lynching, but those working here today are impacted by it through the nature of the relationships that are hindered because of it.”
But the local chapter of the NAACP still wants answers about Callaway’s death.
“There’s still much about this we don’t even know or understand and there are still people today who don’t even know it happened,” LaGrange NAACP President Ernest Ward said.
“Before we can even apologize we need to know the truth about what happened — so what we want to do first is acknowledge what happened.”
“When you stop to think about it, the fact that in this day and time the chief of police and the president of the local branch of the NAACP can come together and do what we feel is right for the community as a whole and neither one of us compromised, that’s a powerful thing.”