One hundred years to the day, descendants of families linked to the Paris, Texas, lynching of two Black brothers, met for the first time Sunday afternoon at the Red River Valley Veterans Memorial.
Tears flowed when Melinda Watters, of Fort Worth, formally apologized to descendants of the Scott and Violet Arthur family for the lynching of brothers Herman and Irvin Arthur on July 6, 1920.
The Arthur Family Remembrance ceremony not only paid homage to injustices of the past but honored Herman Arthur for his service to his country with a paver at the Veteran’s Memorial.
A Paris native, Watters is the great-great-granddaughter of John H. Hodges, landlord to the Arthur family, sharecroppers who farmed land four miles northeast of Paris on Stillhouse Road.
Hodges, and his son, William, were killed in an exchange of gunfire when the two appeared for the second time at the Arthur home to threaten the family about a debt they owed him and about any thoughts of leaving the farm.
The brothers fled to Oklahoma but were brought back to Paris, where a mob broke into the county jail, led them to the Lamar County Fairgrounds, tied the two to a flagpole and burned them alive before a crowd of 3,000 onlookers. Their bodies were then pulled behind a vehicle through the Black neighborhood, terrorizing the community.
“I lament the monstrous lynching and murder of Herman and Irvin Arthur,” Watters said. “I am saddened that your family had to flee the Paris community and start over.
“I am sorry for the way the white community and my family and myself have been complacent in both my bias against Black people and in accordance with a system that continues to disproportionately allow violence upon their bodies,” she continued.
Janese Walton-Roberts of Kileen, a third Arthur generation family member, accepted the apology for more than a dozen descendants present at the remembrance ceremony, limited in attendance because of Covid-19 restrictions but broadcast live by The Paris News and on a Community Remembrance Coalition site on Facebook.
“I didn’t think I would ever be in this place; it’s not a place any of our family ever wanted to come back to,” said Roberts, formerly of Chicago but a Texas resident for the past 20-plus years. After the lynching, the family escaped to Chicago as many Black families headed north in the early 20th century to escape persecutions by a white supremacist South.
“The time has come for forgiveness; and this is a perfect time,” the family member said, referring to the Black Lives Matter movement fueled by the recent death of George Floyd at the knee of a Minneapolis police officer.
Community Remembrance Coalition organizers echoed the thoughts of Watters in expressing the community’s desire for forgiveness.
Rob Spencer, pastor of First United Methodist Church, talked about information he gleaned from the church’s written history. The pastor said the Hodge family attended First Methodist, and the pastor at the time stood with the sheriff in an effort to halt the mob. Spencer noted, however, that several church members were a part of the mob and that one church member was indicted, along with four others from the community, for their mob leadership roles.
“When I told that story to my church five years ago, very few of them had ever heard that story,” Spencer said, noting those indicted never faced a jury. “Justice was not served a second time.”
After further study of church history, Spencer said he found a speech delivered three days after the lynching — a speech filled with the white supremist belief that if the Negro would stay in his place, he could live in peace.
“If the Negro race will show its appreciation by living as these good men desire them to live, much of the errors of the past will be removed from the path of their race,” Spencer quoted from the speech. “We can never save the Negro until he decides to become an honest, tireless, faithful helper of the white man who so desires to defend him.”
Condemning those words, Spencer emphasized the time is overdue for Anglos to speak out against white supremacy, inherent racism and continued injustice.
“White silence is contagious and is how many of us have learned to live in the communities we love,” Spencer said. “We are reminded not to rock the boat, not to stir up trouble, don’t bring up the dark past.
“White privilege in America has meant the luxury of remaining silent about racism as it literally destroys Black lives,” Spencer continued. “White voices must be lifted up, must learn to speak, must learn to crawl out of our holes and speak for liberty and justice for all.”
Shay Bills, pastor of St. Paul Baptist Church, expressed sorrow from the community for the pain suffered in the past, a pain that lingers today.
“My hope is that not only those who are here today, but those watching online will join us as we move forward,” Bills said as she invited others to join the Community Remembrance Coalition.
“I was born and raised here,” Bills said. “I’ve seen and I’ve heard and I have experienced much. I know first hand what it feels like, but I can also tell you that we stand here because we are hopeful because we know what Paris can be …. We can expect to live in the pursuit of happiness for all the days of our lives.”