Freedom school event examines injustices of the past

ANTHONY CRAWFORD

A century after his lynching at the hands of an angry mob, Anthony Crawford will be honored on the Abbeville Court Square Friday and Saturday.

Crawford was a successful black man in Abbeville who owned 427 acres of land at the time of his death and helped establish a school, a church and farms for black people in Abbeville, according to Doria Johnson, Crawford’s great-great granddaughter who helped organize the event.

Many of his descendants, in partnership with the Equal Justice Initiative, will be unveiling a plaque in his honor outside the Abbeville Courthouse at 11 a.m. Saturday.

The plaque includes information about Crawford and describes the events of his lynching.

On Oct. 21, 1916, Crawford was dragged through the street by a noose, stabbed, beaten, hanged, and shot more than 200 times, the plaque says.

No one was ever charged for the crime, Johnson said.

As the event approaches, Johnson has received a number of phone calls she found disturbing, she said.

“I have gotten some phone calls which are concerning about starting trouble and demonstrations, and accusing us of being violent before we even get into town,” Johnson said. “One call is too many. Why would you call me up and say you don’t want troublemakers when I’m coming there because of the troublemakers in your neighborhood.”

“It’s just that the presence of black people is always considered problematic, and that’s troubling to me,” she said.

On Friday, from 7:30 a.m. until 4:30 p.m., there will be a freedom school on the square.

Freedom schools are temporary schools that were used often during the 1960s during the Civil Rights movement as a tool to educate and empower people.

“We want to counteract the Confederate symbols that are there and invoke black history,” Johnson said. “There are no black public history markers there, so we have history teachers, activists and some of our family members who are going to teach classes every hour.”

The history of Crawford and his family, state history, the history of black farmers and Crawford’s business practices will all be subjects of discussion at the freedom school, Johnson said.

“It’s definitely a freedom school, where there’s no hierarchy and no titles,” Johnson said. “We’re going to talk about how people can enact their citizenship.”

“Abbeville was a slave society,” Johnson said. “So to have all those confederate symbols, and even the Burt-Stark House was actually a plantation with over 200 enslaved people in it, and there’s no physical markers, that says something,” Johnson said.

Contact staff writer Conor Hughes at 864-943-2511 or on Twitter @IJConorHughes.