Leadership and a Community’s Response to Lynching

Published January 21, 2019


DiversityLeading OthersResilience

To honor the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., The Global Leadership Summit is sharing a powerful 7-minute video from The Equal Justice Initiative (EJI) founded by GLS faculty alumnus Bryan Stevenson.


On April 26, 2018, under the leadership of Bryan Stevenson, EJI opened the nation’s first memorial, The National Memorial for Peace and Justice, dedicated to the legacy of enslaved black people—people terrorized by lynching and African Americans humiliated by racial segregation and Jim Crow laws.

The short film Abbeville provides insight into the history of lynching in the United States, the deep pain that remains among families of victims and how communities, like Abbeville, South Carolina, are coming together to remember their loved ones and heal.

A century ago, a white mob beat, stabbed, shot and hung Mr. Crawford, a 56-year-old black farmer, in the Abbeville, South Carolina town square, after he dared to argue with a white merchant over the price of cottonseed. The patriarch of a large, multi-generational family, and the owner of 427 acres of land, Mr. Crawford was a successful farmer and leader whose murder had long-reaching effects.

The gruesome public murder, though committed openly, did not lead to prosecution or conviction for any members of the mob. Days after the lynching, Abbeville’s white residents “voted” to expel the Crawford family from the area and seize their property. When South Carolina’s governor declared himself powerless to protect the family from violence, most of the surviving relatives fled to destinations as distant as New York and Illinois, fragmenting the once strong and close-knit family.

It would take ongoing efforts over generations to begin to repair and reconnect those bonds through family reunions and the persistence of family elders who ensured that the younger generations saw Grandpa Crawford’s photograph at family gatherings and knew the story of both his life and death.

The short film documents and honors the Crawford family’s determination to tell their story.

“For a long time, the earth has been silent about the injury and injustice of what happened to Anthony Crawford,” said EJI Director Bryan Stevenson, who officiated the unveiling. “But today, we’re going to resurrect that truth.” As the marker was revealed, the crowd chanted, “We are here!”

To watch Abbeville is to witness the power of truth-telling to pave the way toward healing and reconciliation for individuals, families, communities, and EJI believes, our entire country. By erecting permanent markers that memorialize victims of lynching, EJI is working with communities to change the American landscape to tell a more complete and honest story about our history.

The Equal Justice Initiative is committed to ending mass incarceration and excessive punishment in the United States, to challenging racial and economic injustice, and to protecting basic human rights for the most vulnerable people in American society.

To learn more, check out eji.org or Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption, the New York Times best-selling book by Bryan Stevenson.

About the Author
Bryan Stevenson

Bryan Stevenson

Founder & Executive Director

Equal Justice Initiative

Bryan Stevenson, a highly acclaimed activist and lawyer, has dedicated his career to helping the poor, the incarcerated and the condemned through his leadership of the Equal Justice Initiative. He has successfully argued several cases in front of the U.S. Supreme Court, and his TED talk has more than three million views. The best-selling author of Just Mercy, Stevenson was named to Fortune’s 2016 World’s Greatest Leaders list.

Years at GLS 2017