Hidden History: Vigil Planned for Man Wrongly Lynched a Century Ago

MEMPHIS, TENN (localmemphis.com) - It was one of the most brutal killings in Memphis history of a man that was likely innocent of the crime he was accused of. 

This coming May will mark the 100 year anniversary of the lynching of Elle Persons. He was accused of murdering a white teenage girl. 16-year-old Antoinette Rappel was found murdered and decapitated in the Spring of 1917.  There was a massive search for her killer. 

Persons was arrested after he told his white boss that he had a dream about his wife. The boss then believed that was enough evidence to prove he was responsible for the murder of Rappel. 

Persons eventually confessed to the murder after being beaten and interrogated for hours, but many historians believe it was a false confession. There was no evidence linking Persons to the crime. 

After an angry mob took Persons out of custody of authorities, he was burned alive and decapitated on May 22nd, 1917. 

"The Lynching Sites Project of Memphis" is currently planning a prayer vigil and historical marker unveiling for Persons.  The group looks to put up markers at lynching sites across Shelby County.

"There are a lot of good people in Memphis and the Mid-South that are working very hard to get past our past history," said John Ashworth who is the project manager for the Persons project. 

Ashworth says there were about 5,000 people present the day Persons was lynched on May 22nd. Ashworth wants to have that same number of people present a century later for the prayer vigil.

"I think for America and the mid-south, but for America to recognize what was done, why it was done, so we can get to a point of healing," said Ashworth.

The prayer vigil will be held on May 21st of this year at the very spot where Persons was lynched. It is located in a wooded area just off Summer Avenue near the movie theater. 

The Lynching Sites Project of Memphis is working to find all the lynching sites in Memphis. For more information go to their 


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