APEX, N.C. — Lynn Council has a story to tell, but he's struggling to find his words in Wake County sheriff's office. It isn't the first time he's been in this position.
In both instances, Lynn's story is clear. His voice is assured.
"I didn't do it," Council says, "but I was taken to jail on Tuesday. I was tried on Wednesday, and I was hung on Thursday."
The worst week of Lynn Council's life began on a Sunday in November, 1952 in Apex, North Carolina. It's town 20 minutes southwest of Raleigh, and like many southern communities, it harbors its own history of racism and prejudice. Today, the weight of that history rests heavily upon the community leaders attempting to rectify wrongs they neither committed nor believe they can every fully repair.
"It haunts the history of people," says Wake County Sheriff Gerald Baker.
For decades, Council, 86, never told anyone. The feelings of terror, hatred and anger remained only within himself. The words Council does speak are in a measured, southern drawl native to Apex, North Carolina, the only home he's ever known.
"The forgiveness," Council says, "well, I believe Jesus found it in my heart the way He did. He's good me, he loves everybody. And that's only way I think it should be."
The way it should be, but in Council's experience, not the way it has been. Time has slowed his speech, but Council's memory remains clear on the week in November 1952, the one that changed his life forever.
Toby Holleman, co-historian and author of Apex history recounts how the former Apex chief of police, Sam Bagwell falsely rounded up eight young African-Americans, accusing them of robbing a convenience store.
"Bagwell's history of brutality and racism is long and well documented," Holleman said. Council says Bagwell took him to the Apex Town Hall, with two jail cells at the time, for interrogation. He claims Bagwell became frustrated by his denials, and beat him.
The robbery took place outside of Bagwell's jurisdiction, so Holleman says Bagwell took Council and the others to Wake County jail, where they were questioned more, but that Council was singled out.
"It's likely he was tried there before being returned to the cell for the evening," Holleman says.
WFMY News 2 requested arrest and court records, but both records departments did not have many of the records from that era, saying they did not exist.
The next day, Council says, he woke up to Bagwell and handcuffs. Council says Bagwell put him in a police car with two sheriff deputies under his command. The deputies drove 10 miles into the country, led Council underneath a tree, and looped a noose around his neck.
"I thought they were going to drive me out, string me up and leave me to die there," Council remembers.
The sheriff deputies hung Council for about a minute, he says, before the let him down, trying to intimidate and question him more.
"They said, 'Tell me where that money at?'" said Council.
Council, choked from the rope and left with scars he still bears to this day, could not respond. The sheriff deputies, Council said, brought him back to the Wake County jail, where he was released the next day. Council left, and remained silent, fearful of retaliation if he spoke out and grateful for his life.
But early in 2019, Lynn decided to tell his story. The press received in Raleigh reached the ears of current Apex Police Chief, John Letteney. The next day, he removed Sam Bagwell's brick from the walk outside the police station, publicly denounced Bagwell and apologized to Lynn.
At Wake County, Sheriff Gerald Baker wanted to rectify the situation as well. It is not lost on the fact that Baker himself is African-American, a sign of how far prejudices have shifted since Bagwell tortured the streets of Apex. He presented Lynn with numerous honors, including the key to the Wake County jail, and publicly and profusely apologized to him.
"I wanted Lynn to know that as long as I humbly hold this office, there can not, and will not be acts like this from our department. This department has come a long way from back then, but we all still have a long way to go," Bake said.
Today, as Lynn prepares to depart the sheriff's office, his words slow up again, unable to find what he wants to say. After a few moments, clarity.
"You all are some nice people," Council says to Baker, "back then some people didn't treat me that right, but you all are good people."