This Saturday, Feb. 29, at 10 a.m. there will be a soil gathering ceremony at the site on Front Street where a man was killed in 1902.
What happened? A woman accused a man of a crime. Consider for a moment if that happened to you. You are accused and arrested. It should not matter what your race, gender, religion, gender orientation or ability is. In 1902, the accused was a boxer, ran a fitness gymnasium and was black. He was arrested and taken to jail. Word spread of his arrest and a big group, really a mob, came to the jail yelling for “justice.” The man was able to escape while he was being taken out of the jail. He hid under a dock. The next morning he was found, brought out and shot. Imagine that was you.
His name was Alonzo Taylor and he was an American. We are taught that in America each person has rights. The United States Constitution says “No person ... shall be deprived of life ... without due process of law.” In America, it is illegal to kill someone, unless you kill in self-defense or you work for the government as an executioner or a soldier. No one had a right to kill Mr. Taylor. The people who killed Mr. Taylor were known. Nonetheless, no one was accused of murder or arrested. Mr. Taylor’s dead body was hanged from a bridge, where the Marshfield soccer field is today, for all to see.
You may ask, “Why remember this bad thing that happened so long ago?” No one is alive now who was alive then. Still, we know learning what took place on the land where we live is valuable. We are taught if we fail to learn from the past, we are condemned to repeat it. The organizers hope the ceremony can “begin a necessary conversation that advances truth and reconciliation.”
What happened in 1902 was a loss of respect for the rule of law. This is a dangerous slippery slope. As Pastor Martin Neimoeller wrote, “First they came for the Jews and I did not speak out — because I was not a Jew. Then they came for the communists .... Then the trade unionists .... Then they for came me and there was no one left to speak out for me.”
This week, let’s remember the last words from our pledge of allegiance to the “flag of the United States and to the republic for which it stands, one nation under God, with Liberty and Justice for all.”
The Coos History Museum will join with the Equal Justice Initiative, the National Memorial for Peace and Justice in Alabama and students from Marshfield High, North Bend High, Southwestern Oregon Community College, and officials from the City of Coos Bay, to lead a ceremony in remembrance of a racial violence tragedy that occurred in Coos County over a century ago.