Sunday, February 20, I took a 2-hour drive to Milwaukee, WI. As a member of America's Black Holocaust Museum, I attended a private reception. The grand opening is Friday, February 25, 2022.
America's Black Holocaust Museum was founded by Dr. James Cameron, a lynching survivor. The museum covers 400+ years of black history starting from the cradle of life to the present.
The museum honors Milwaukeeans such as Vel Phillips, the first black woman to graduate from the University of WI-Madison law school, first black/female Secretary of State in Wisconsin, the first black judge in the State of Wisconsin, the first female judge in Milwaukee County and the first black and first female alderperson elected to the Milwaukee Common Council.
Cameron was born in LaCrosse, WI, and eventually moved to Birmingham, AL. Cameron witnessed his first lynching at eight years old. A few years later, Cameron and his family moved to Marion, IN that was a hotbed of racism since the early 1920s and racial terror by the Klu Klux Klan.
On August 7, 1930, two teenagers Abram Smith, 19, and Thomas Shipp, 18, invited 16-year-old Cameron for a joy ride. They arrived at a secluded Lover's Lane with the intent to rob a white couple. When the two teens tried to rob the couple, Cameron knew the white male who was his shoeshine customer. Cameron ran away from the scene and went home. The botched robbery led to the death of Cameron's customer.
Cameron was eventually arrested and went to jail along with Smith and Shipp. While in jail, an angry white mob swelled up to 10,000 at the Marion courthouse. The mob grabbed all three teens to lynch them outside the courthouse.
Smith and Shipp were badly beaten and tortured and were hanged at the courthouse yard. White spectators watched and cheered with enthusiasm. The mob grabbed and beat Cameron and put the noose around his neck to hang him next to Smith and Shipp. Suddenly, someone in the crowd intervened and said Cameron was not involved in the murder. Cameron's life was spared.
Smith and Shipp's bodies were left hanging for several hours for spectators to witness. The horrifying image of Smith and Shipp being lynched is still visible today on the internet as a reminder of Marion, IN's racism and deadly tortures.
NAACP got involved with information about the persons involved in the lynching. Charges were filed against those that were involved but were acquitted by an all-white jury. Lynching survivor, Cameron was tried and sentenced to five years in prison. While in prison, Cameron began to write his book "A Time of Terror: A Survivor's Story."
After Cameron's release from prison, he founded four NAACP chapters in Indiana. His wife and children fought against segregation in Marion, IN.
Credit: ABH Museum