The Irondale Memorial Coalition partnered with EJI and the Jefferson County Memorial Project to unveil a historical marker for William Wardley, a Black man lynched in Irondale, Alabama, on December 7, 1896. The marker is located near 1900 First Avenue North, by the railroad tracks where Mr. Wardley’s body was found.
The historical marker was unveiled at a dedication ceremony on Tuesday, February 23. Due to the Covid-19 pandemic, a small group of Irondale and Jefferson County residents attended in person and other community members joined via online streaming and social media.
Lynching in Irondale
On December 7, 1896, William Wardley, a Black man, was lynched by an armed mob of white Irondale residents. That day, Mr. Wardley, along with two companions, attempted to purchase apples from a local grocery store. The merchant refused to accept Mr. Wardley’s money because he assumed it was counterfeit.
During this era, a white person’s allegation against a Black person would rarely be subject to scrutiny and often sparked violent reprisal, even when there was no evidence of a crime.
Based on this accusation, a mob that included a local minister and a police constable pursued Mr. Wardley and his companions before fatally shooting Mr. Wardley. His body was later found along a railroad track a little over a mile outside of town. His two companions survived.
After the lynching of Mr. Wardley, the U.S. Treasury Department investigated the counterfeit claim and proved the money was real. However, the Treasury Department’s report did not mention Mr. Wardley’s death, and white residents continued to maintain the false counterfeit claim to justify the mob’s violent actions. The local press, sympathetic to the mob, reported that Mr. Wardley caused his own death to avoid capture by the authorities. No one was ever held accountable for William Wardley’s lynching.
Irondale Memorial Coalition
In response to the community outreach of the Jefferson County Memorial Project (JCMP), community members in Irondale began meeting to discuss how to document and memorialize the history of the racial terror violence in their community. Alex Melonas, an educator at the Altamont School, and Pastor Michael McClure of Revelation Church Ministries served as the co-chairs of the effort. They wanted to create a platform for the Irondale community to explore the historical context of racial injustice and the ways that legacy manifests today. The coalition includes local churches, schools, elected officials, and community leaders.
As part of the JCMP Fellows program, a local student, Margaret Weinberg, conducted additional research about William Wardley and served on the coalition. Her research coupled with the work of other students was published by JCMP to provide more information about the more than 30 victims of racial terror lynching documented in Jefferson County.
In November 2019, the coalition hosted a community soil collection ceremony in remembrance of Mr. Wardley at Revelation Church Ministries. Following the ceremony, the coalition and University of Alabama at Birmingham faculty and students partnered with the Irondale public library to host public education events, including a memory box exhibit in honor of Mr. Wardley.
Originally posted by EJI on 2021-03-05 16:52:43