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Shelby County first in Kentucky to install markers remembering lynching victims

The markers remember six Black men who were killed by lynch mobs from 1878 to 1911 in Shelby County.

SHELBYVILLE, Ky. — Three blue and gold markers are now standing in downtown Shelbyville to remember several lynching victims killed more than a century earlier.

"I've lived here all my life," Paul Schmidt said. "I had not heard of them. And I was embarrassed and ashamed and didn't know how to talk about them."

The markers remember six Black men who were killed by lynch mobs from 1878 to 1911 in Shelby County: Reuben Dennis, Sam Pulliam, Clarence Garnett, Jimbo Fields, Wade Patterson and Eugene Marshall. Some of the men were taken to the railroad bridge near downtown and hanged from the tracks.

"These are men who lived," said David Charlton, a minister at First Christian Church Disciples of Christ in Shelbyville. "These are man who had families, whose lives were of great value and dignity, and they were taken from them far too soon by such a terrible act of injustice."

Shelbyville Area NAACP President Janice Harris said that while a lot of people did not know, others did and those who did "were probably harboring sadness because of the way these men were treated."

"It is a wound on our community," Charlton said. "It is a wound on humanity."

Harris serves as the chair of the Shelbyville Community Remembrance Project Coalition, which first began its effort to work with the Equal Justice Initiative to install these markers in Shelbyville back in 2019. After several delays due in part to the coronavirus pandemic, the markers were finally unveiled at a ceremony Saturday.

"We want to heal," Harris said. "You can't heal if you don't talk about what's bothering you. And these are things that's bothering our community."

"This is the opportunity to remember, to be their funeral, to be a memory of their lives so they can be respected like everyone else," volunteer Doug Welch said.

These markers are believed to be the first in the state of Kentucky honoring people killed by lynch mobs.

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