Jefferson County Memorial Project

The winners of the Lowndes County Racial Justice Essay Contest were announced on July 30, 2016. Photo by Caleb Chancey.

Racial Justice Essay Contest

The Equal Justice Initiative in partnership with the Jefferson County Memorial Project is pleased to announce a scholarship contest open to 9th – 12th grade students attending Birmingham City public high schools, where prizes totaling at least $5,000 will be awarded to winning participants.

The Equal Justice Initiative (EJI) offers this opportunity in connection with its Community Remembrance Historical Marker Project, which focuses on memorializing the more than 4,400 African American victims of racial terror lynching killed between the end of Reconstruction in 1877 and World War II. EJI acknowledges that our national history of racial inequality and economic injustice has created continuing challenges for all Americans. Communities across our nation have been profoundly impacted by the legacies of the eras of enslavement, racial terror lynching, and segregation in ways that continue to influence our social, political, and personal practices and institutions. EJI and local communities are working together to help advance a more truthful understanding of our history through memorialization and community remembrance. We believe that a deeper understanding about our nation’s history of racial injustice is important to addressing contemporary questions of social justice and equality, and each Historical Marker Project helps our nation participate more fully in a sequential process of truth and reconciliation.

2019 Racial Justice Essay Contest for Birmingham, Alabama

This scholarship contest coincides with the recent dedication of a historical marker at Sloss Furnaces in Birmingham, Alabama on September 9, 2019. The marker memorializes Jake Mckenzie and Tom Redmond and the practices of convict leasing in Jefferson County. After the Civil War, violent resistance to equal rights for black people led to decades of abuse and exploitation meant to intimidate black people and enforce racial subordination. Alabama’s mining industry, which relied on enslaved people’s labor since the 1840s, continued such abuse and exploitation after slavery was abolished through the practice of convict leasing. Sloss-Sheffield Iron and Steel Company used this practice of “convict leasing” in Jefferson County to send leased black laborers to work at the Brookside and Coalburg mines.

The historical marker dedicated to telling the stories of Jake McKenzie and Tom Redmond was dedicated on Monday, September 9, 2019. Photo by EJI.

Brookside mines was also the site of the lynchings of Jake McKenzie and Tom Redmond, who are memorialized on Sloss Furnace's Historical Marker. Mr. Redmond was murdered on June 17th in 1890 in the aftermath of an altercation between a group of white men and a group of black men that left five others wounded. Regarding Mr. Redmond’s age, his family, his occupation or his life until this point, no records have been found. Seven years later, Mr. Mckenzie was also killed at Brookside mines. On March 22, 1897, a Saturday night, a group of black men gathered at Burgins, a bar in Brookside. City Marshal Glen Tetherow entered the establishment with a warrant for the arrest of Henry Johnson, a black man, for a charge of abusive language. A group of black men, including Mr. Mckenzie, tried to stop the arrest. Tetherow and other officers began shooting at the men, killing Mr. McKenzie. An officer was also killed and several black men wounded. Mr. McKenzie was in his late twenties or early thirties. No records show that the men were ever prosecuted for either of these murders.

EJI has documented at least 362 racial terror lynchings of African Americans in the State of Alabama, and 30 in Jefferson County, between 1877 and 1950.

Scholarship winners will be announced and recognized at a Jefferson County Memorial Project event in 2020 in Birmingham, Alabama.

To Learn More about Participating in this Contest, please see the Eligibility and Essay Guidelines for more information.

Questions?

Please contact your local organizer, Elizabeth Thomas, Birmingham City Schools 9-12 Literacy and Humanities Coordinator at Ethomas3@bhm.k12.al.us or Gabrielle Daniels, EJI Essay Coordinator, at gdaniels@eji.org.