Feb 6th, 2020
At an MLK breakfast on January 20, Dr. Bob Raines of Jackson State Community College was recognized and honored by the Lane College Chapter of the NAACP for his work with the Madison County Community Remembrance Project. Dr. Cindy Boyles, UTM Criminal Justice Professor, was also recognized.
When he was first moved to action by a 2017 TV interview of Equal Justice Initiative (EJI) founder Bryan Stevenson, psychology professor Bob Raines did not envision that he would one day be honored for efforts in raising awareness about social injustices and the lynching of African Americans in the 19th Century.
EJI began an effort to memorialize lynching victims by collecting soil samples in jars from the location of the lynchings. This effort started in Montgomery, Alabama and then spread to many other locations. There were three documented lynchings of African Americans in Madison County: Eliza Woods in 1886; John Brown in 1891; and Frank Ballard in 1894.
Raines originally approached JSCC administration about the possibility of hosting an EJI event on the JSCC campus. With the assistance of the Madison County Branch of the NAACP, the Lane College Chapter of the NAACP, and the Equal Justice Initiative, Raines arranged for JSCC to co-host a memorial service in Jackson on February 23, 2018.
"While the purpose of the ceremony was to expose and face a horrific act of violence and injustice, its ultimate impact, I think, was positive and hopeful," Raines said. "I witnessed first-hand the potential healing power of people coming together to openly confront this kind of injustice. During that brief moment in time, racial, political and ideological differences between the people in that space seemed to melt away."
Since the soil dedication ceremony at JSCC, Raines and his wife, Kate, have worked with the Madison County Community Remembrance Project group led by Dr. Boyles. This group successfully lobbied the Madison County Commissioners to allow for the placement of a historical marker honoring the Madison County lynching victims to be placed on the courthouse lawn, Saturday, April 18. Raines and his wife are on the subcommittee which is planning the unveiling ceremony of the marker.
According to Raines, his involvement with EJI has been a life-changing experience. "I think a first but crucial step toward atonement, reconciliation, and maybe even some bit of redemption is truth-telling, an accounting or reckoning with our past. Owning our weaknesses, our mistakes, and even shameful parts of our history can be healing; it makes us stronger, healthier, and more whole."