In our studies of racial injustice and officially sanctioned violence in America, we learned that there had been a lynching in Coatesville, Chester County, Pennsylvania, quite close to Philadelphia. In August, 1911, steelworker Zachariah Walker, who was hospitalized and already under arrest for killing a popular former police officer in a fight, was dragged from his hospital bed by a mob and burned alive. The following day, people combed through the ashes for his burned body parts as souvenirs. The crime appalled the Coatesville community, and 15 men and boys were tried for the lynching. All were acquitted.
The Equal Justice Initiative (EJI) is currently building a museum in Montgomery, AL, to commemorate victims of lynching. They are collecting soil from the site of each death, to be displayed in glass jars labeled with the name of each victim. We were interested in collecting soil from the site of Walker’s lynching. We reached out to members of the Coatesville community. Several organizations were very enthusiastic. Merion Friends Meeting’s Beliefs into Action committee provided support and assistance for an event that was planned and carried out by those organizations.
On Sunday, November 12, we attended a moving ceremony at the site of the historic marker commemorating the lynching. Tabernacle Baptist Church’s Rev. Dr. Gradis Eggleston offered an invocation with remarks by Sister Pamela Depp. Borough of South Coatesville Police Chief Kevin Pierce sang the hymn, “His Eyes are on the Sparrow.” State Senator Andy Dinniman gave heartfelt commentary. There was also participation from Apostle Bobby Duncan, President of the Ministers’s Alliance; Rev. Dr. Lauraine Acey, representative from the NAACP; Sylvia Washington, Councilwoman of South Coatesville; and Dr. O’Brassill-Fulfan of the Equal Justice Initiative. It was important to Merion to provide support for local organizations and let them tell their story in the way they chose.
Two jars of soil were collected. One will be displayed in the museum in Birmingham, opening in April. The other will be displayed locally before going to a permanent home in the collection of the Chester County Historical Society.