On Nov. 21, 1881, 24-year-old Athens County resident Christopher Davis – a Black man – was lynched by a white mob in Athens.
A marker memorializing Davis is now located on Mulberry Street in Athens, near the site of the old South Bridge, close to Ohio University’s Baker Center.
In October of 1881, a woman living near Albany was reportedly assaulted, and her relatives accused Davis of being her assailant.
He was arrested, although many in the community believed in his innocence, the historical marker states.
Due to threats of lynching, the sheriff at the time reportedly moved Davis from the jail in Athens to the jail in Chillicothe.
Davis returned on the evening train to Athens on Nov. 20 of that year, awaiting trial, according to the historical marker.
A mob of men came to the Athens jail on Nov. 21 and reportedly dragged Davis through the streets, ultimately hanging him from the South Bridge, the marker states.
Some in the mob were leaders in the community. No one was brought to justice for the murder of Davis, who was 24, a father of two and a farm laborer from Albany, according to the marker.
Davis was later buried at the West State Street cemetery, but his body was reportedly exhumed without his family’s permission and taken to Starling Medical College in Columbus, the marker states.
The historical marker was the work of the Equal Justice Initiative (EJI), which has coordinated the Christopher Davis Community Remembrance Project along with multiple local partners.
“This marker helps create an honest accounting of the past, addressing the true history of human behavior, and helps society avoid repeating such acts of violence against our fellow citizens. Our history defines us, as individuals, as communities and as a nation. This coalition has helped us better know our past and that can help chart a better future,” said Tom O’Grady, Development Director with the Southeast Ohio History Center.
Davis has been the subject of other historical projects, The Athens NEWS has previously reported.
Jordan Zdinak, then an OU master’s student in history, pored through historical records to help create a currently running exhibit at the Southeast Ohio History Center on the lynching of Davis, with help from History Center Executive Director Jessica Cyders and consultation from Ada Woodson Adams, a local resident who has for decades documented the history of Black Americans in Appalachia.
Zdinak said in an article on OU’s website that records she’s seen suggest that there was very little investigation into the allegations against Davis.
In September of 2019, the coalition coordinating the remembrance project sponsored an event to memorialize Davis by collecting soil at the base of the old bridge where he was murdered.
More than 300 people reportedly attended the event, and many community members participated in collecting soil that was sent to EJI for display in the Legacy Museum in Montgomery, Alabama.
A duplicate jar of soil was presented to the Southeast Ohio History Center for inclusion in their collection and can be seen as part of an exhibit examining this history at their museum, according to a Christopher Davis Remembrance Project press release.
“This marker is necessary because truth is necessary,” said the Rev. Jack Sullivan Jr., who serves as the Executive Director of the Ohio Council of Churches. “It is required because justice is required. It must denote honor because a man of honor was murdered here. It must reflect historical honesty to help us dislodge generations of racist lies and distortions that haunt us even now.”
A ceremony honoring Davis is planned for the fall, according to the Christopher Davis Community Remembrance Project press release.
“The marker will serve as a reminder that the struggle for racial justice is on-going, as the recent deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Tony McDade, Ahmaud Arbery, Rayshard Books and many more known and unknown victims, at the hands of police and others,” a press release from the Christopher Davis Community Remembrance Project stated.