115-year anniversary of Watkinsville mass lynching

June 29, 1905, is the day eight men were lynched in Watkinsville, Georgia. Seven of them were Black.

Now, 115 years later, a local group of people don’t want their names to be forgotten. 

They gathered for a vigil Monday at the Oconee County Courthouse and Watkinsville City Cemetery.

“We grow from our history. We become stronger from knowing about our history," said Fred Smith, a community organizer.

He was born in 1953 -- the great-great-grandson of a former slave.

He says he remembers tending to graves at the Watkinsville City Cemetery, which is the resting place of one of the lynching victims.

Sandy Price, who was 20 years old at the time, is the only victim to have a marked grave.

“When I was driving out here today, I thought about my parents," Smith said. "I thought about the fear that my mama always had for her sons.”

Verna Miller Smith’s grandparents were slaves for 36 years. And she says they were owned by the same family as one of the lynching victims, Claude Elder. 

The 73-year-old now fears for her two grandsons.

“When I became a grandmother, I cried because I had a grandson, and I knew it is very hard for young black men," she said. "I had a second grandchild. I cried again because another grandson.”

The organizer of Monday’s vigil says his goal is to lift others up and to never forget the lives lost.

“This is something we who are classified as white especially need to come to grips with," said John Vodicka. "The time is over for making excuses or saying 'Well, that wasn’t me. That was my great grandfather's era.'"

The victims of the lynching were Rich Robinson, Lewis Robinson, Claude Elder, Rich Allen, Gene Yerby, Bob Harris, Lon Aycock, and Sandy Price. More information in the history can be found here.