No matter where you look — structural change is evident across Palm Beach County. But moving the needle on race relations according to people like trial attorney Bryan Boysaw is moving at a much slower pace.
“The social climate in Palm Beach County is segregated,” Boysaw said. ”If you think about here in Palm Beach County ---- 1972 was the first time we had fully desegregated public schools. Even though the Brown v. Board of Education decision was in 1956. It’s relative to us getting away from our issue of race and talking truthfully about it today. There is still a negative contemporary presumption about Black people when others look at us.”
Is this just by chance? Historians say it isn’t.
“It’s time to tell the whole story. Not just half of it, part of it or a piece of it,” said Rodney Freeman, author and Riviera Beach Library director. “You got to tell the whole story.”
The story includes confronting the legacy of racial terror lynchings in the U.S. from the 1860’s to 1950’s documented by the Alabama-based Equal Justice Initiative.
”The white mobs weren’t just the people that were shooting, stabbing and hanging people, the White mobs included our politicians and our judges," Boysaw said.
Florida, Mississippi, Arkansas and Louisiana had the highest statewide rates of lynchings at the hands of whites who resented the end of slavery, Black advancement, Blacks violating social customs and racial expectations and Blacks being treated as equals. Historians also say these states have an “astonishing absence of any effort to acknowledge, discuss, or address lynching.”
”When you have that past history you have to get beyond it by telling the truth about it and showing it,” Boysaw said.
Boysaw is a member of Palm Beach County’s Remembrance Project Coalition, a community coalition formed last year who are working with the Equal Justice Initiative (EJI) to memorialize the terror lynchings of Henry Simmons in 1923 in West Palm Beach and Samuel Nelson in Delray Beach in 1926.
Simmons was taken from a boarding house in West Palm Beach where he lived with his wife in the early morning hours of June 7, 1923. He was called out by a group of men and taken away in a car. His body was found riddled with bullets and hanging from a tree near where a police officer was shot and killed a few days earlier. Henry Simmons was not considered a suspect in the shooting of the police officer.
Nelson was in the Delray Beach jail on Sept. 26, 1926, on a charge of attempted criminal assault of a woman in Miami. The next morning the steel door of the jail was found battered open and his body was found riddled with bullets next to a canal west of Delray.
”If (members of the Equal Justice Initiative) think that your community has shown sufficient interest in this overall project in telling the truth about our history then they will award you that memorial and then you can bring home the companion piece that is permanently on display in Montgomery, Alabama,” Boysaw said.
Palm Beach County’s Board of County Commissioners will host a workshop focused on the coalitions next steps on Aug. 31 at 1:00 P.M. in the commission chambers located in the Robert Weisman Governmental Center, 301 N. Olive Avenue, West Palm Beach.
To learn more about lynchings in America, click here.