Palm Beach County Community Remembrance Project

By Josephine Gon
Vice President, Jewish Community Relations Council
Published January 7, 2022


I am extremely proud to be representing Jewish Federation and the Jewish community of Palm Beach County as the co-vice chair of the Palm Beach County Community Remembrance Project (PBCCRP) Coalition and as co-chair of its Community Education and Engagement Committee.

The memorial was created by Bryan Stevenson whose story you may know from the book, documentary and film, “Just Mercy.” Bryan Stevenson is the Founder and Executive Director of the Equal Justice Initiative (EJI), based in Montgomery, Alabama, and is a law professor at New York University School of Law. He has helped win United States Supreme Court decisions that prohibit sentencing children under 18 to death or to life imprisonment without parole. He has assisted in cases that have saved dozens of prisoners from the death penalty, advocated for the poor, and developed community-based reform litigation aimed at improving the administration of criminal justice.

The memorial consists of more than 800 corten steel monuments, one for each county in the United States where a racial terror lynching took place. The names of the lynching victims are engraved on the columns. Each column is duplicated before delivery to counties where the lynchings took place.

My appointment to this coalition by the Palm Beach County Commission, arose from my visit to The National Memorial for Peace and Justice in Montgomery, AL, colloquially called the “lynching memorial.” This is a profoundly moving, impactful and important memorial to the victims of racial terror in America.

When I saw that there were two lynchings in Palm Beach County I was determined that Palm Beach County claim its memorial. I immediately approached County Commissioner Gregg Weiss about bringing the memorial to the county.  Others had also brought up this idea, and in 2019 the board of county commissioners appointed a coalition of a core group of diverse community members, including me, to explore bringing the marker to Palm Beach County.

The memorial will remember the two known lynchings that occurred in Palm Beach County, that of Henry Simmons and Samuel Nelson.

Bringing the memorial to Palm Beach County is a multi-stage, long term process carefully monitored by EJI. Three conditions need to be met before our community will be granted the memorial: Education and Community Engagement; Soil Collection and Historical Marker Projects.

These three aspects will take place in 2022 and hopefully, culminate with bringing the memorial monument to Palm Beach County in June 2023, the 100 year anniversary recognition of Henry Simmons.

I, along with Barbara Cheives, are co-chairs of the Education and Community Engagement Committee. We have planned a wonderful assortment of activities including lectures, book readings and author discussions, film screenings, art projects, historic bike and walking tours and much more. The first event will be the launching of an essay contest for public high school students. Palm Beach County libraries, municipalities, schools and non-profit organizations will play a critical role in community engagement.

Please visit the website about this initiative which explains more. I hope many in the Jewish community will volunteer to participate and support this effort.

We Jews, whose religion is built on a foundation of memory, and who place such primacy in remembering (zachor), must surely understand Bryan Stevenson’s vision:

“EJI believes that publicly confronting the truth about our history is the first step towards recovery and reconciliation. A history of racial injustice must be acknowledged, and mass atrocities and abuse must be recognized and remembered, before a society can recover from mass violence. Public commemoration plays a significant role in prompting community-wide reconciliation.”

Ken and Mimi Heyman will be leading a Jewish Federation Civil Rights Mission, to Georgia and Alabama, including The National Memorial for Peace and Justice, from November 13-15, 2022.  More information coming soon.

Read Josephine Gon’s JCRC blog
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