GREENSBORO, N.C. (WGHP) — One local group is uncovering a centuries-old secret in Greensboro.
The Guilford County Community Remembrance Project has spent the last 4 years researching the only documented lynching in Guilford County. It has led them to the area near downtown Greensboro where this may have happened.
Before it was the Church of the Covenant Presbyterian Church, the area of South Mendenhall and Jackson Street near Spring Garden was the former Jackson Farm. It was owned by farmer and real estate agent William G. Jackson. It’s also believed to be the place where 17-year-old Eugene Hairston took his last breaths in 1887.
“He (Jackson) lived among black neighbors and he also sold property to blacks. And so that may have been a reason that they selected this area. It was on the outskirts of town, but it made a statement,” said Terry Hammond, member of the Guilford County Community Remembrance Project.
Eugene’s very public lynching was a tragedy almost buried in time, forgotten over generations.
“It became very clear that even descendants relations of Eugene Hairston didn’t know what had happened to him. The white community doesn’t seem to be aware that this occurred and most of them will say it was so long ago how could we possibly know?” said Karen Skelton, member of the Guilford County Community Remembrance Project.
It’s why the group has worked to unearth this piece of nearly hidden history.
Today the land Jackson owned looks much different. Jackson’s farm is long gone. Buildings and homes stand in their place. Sidewalks and parking lots have replaced dirt roads.
“It’s really changed a lot and yet I can’t walk through this part of town without looking at the tall oak trees,” Skelton said.
While they don’t know the exact location — due to so many changes over more than 100 years — old maps and newspaper articles from the 1800s give them an idea of the general area where Eugene was killed.
“Knowing the general location has been helpful to us to think about. Was this area picked for a particular reason? Or did there just happen to be a big tree that was handy?” Hammond said.
“It leaves an imprint. It’s like once you know the history, you can look around and start seeing and imagining what that scenario looked like and again trying to imagine folks coming hour after hour to come out here and view what was a deliberate spectacle,” Skelton said.
Some questions, they’ll never know the answers to, but with every hour spent searching, the picture slowly becomes clearer.
The group plans to continue their research to see what else they can dig up about Eugene and his family. The next step is to organize a soil collection ceremony on the land where Eugene was killed as a part of a larger memorial to him.