Exactly one century ago, Michelle Lisa Whitney’s great uncle – Ell Persons – died a brutal death, as a large crowd gathered to watch a white mob burn the woodcutter alive, decapitate, and dismember him near the Wolf River in what today is northeast Memphis.
“The thing that really gets to me is the suffering,” Michelle said.
But Persons did not die in anonymity. His murder will forever be remembered and recognized. This afternoon, Memphians unveiled a marker that will be placed along the Wolf River – the site of Persons’ lynching. Another similar marker is on Summer Avenue near Shelby Oaks.
Rep. Steve Cohen attended today’s ceremony.
“If we don’t learn from history we are doomed to repeat it,” Congressman Cohen said.
Persons’ attack and murder came after he was wrongfully accused of the murder of a teenage student, Antoinette Rappel. Today one of Rappel’s descendants, Laura Wilfong Miller, reflected on the loss – and lack of closure – still felt generations later by two families.
“There were two murders and there was no justice in either situation, neither one, unfortunately, and so I hope it’s an event that can bring some peace to all of it,” said Laura.