‘We have to continue to make sure Smith did not die in vain’: Memorial marker dedicated at Lincoln County Courthouse

Published 5:03 pm Monday, August 14, 2023

BROOKHAVEN — A crowd gathered on the steps of the Lincoln County Courthouse where Lamar Smith would have worked to register voters before he was gunned down on the courthouse lawn 68 years and one day ago. Speakers addressed who Lamar was, what he died fighting for and the vision moving forward as they dedicated a historical marker Monday morning.

Family members asked the Lincoln County Board of Supervisors for a historical marker in April 2021. Deborah Smith-Griffin, a granddaughter of Lamar Smith, said she was inspired to ask for a sign after visiting the Equal Justice Initiative in Montgomery, Alabama. Her sister Gail helped advocate for a marker to be placed in front of the courthouse. 

“On the way back we decided we have to get a marker. His name is known all over the US,” Griffin said. “We became like Aaron and Moses. We fussed a lot. We presented our case and made it clear we are here to get a marker. Gail said ‘we need the marker on the courthouse lawn where he was shot and killed in broad daylight.’ It was only God who could make this happen.” 

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Lincoln County paid for the marker which was made by the Mississippi Department of Archives and History. Brookhaven Monuments installed the sign last Friday. The wording of the marker was controversial for the family. 

Shirley Ducksworth, a granddaughter of Lamar Smith, said they were not entirely in agreement with the language used. The marker reads “”Murder of Lamar Smith On August 13, 1955, Lamar Smith, A 63-year-old African American farmer and World War I veteran, was murdered in broad daylight on the courthouse lawn while encouraging African Americans to vote. Smith had been threatened for organizing Black voters and was killed in front of dozens of witnesses. An all-White grand jury failed to indict the three White men arrested for the murder after witnesses refused to testify. No one was ever prosecuted for Smith’s murder.”

Ducksworth said there are still questions left by the sign. 

“When anyone reads this marker they will ask who allegedly murdered him. We are forced to share the information orally because it is not on the marker,” Ducksworth said. “In 2007, the FBI opened a cold case and it said Mack Smith, Noah Smith and Charles Falvey were arrested for it but an all white jury failed to return an indictment.” 

She spoke about justice as did Joe L. Smith, a great nephew of Lamar Smith. Joe said the dedication felt like a funeral as he wore a black top hat and carried a bouquet of flowers to place at the marker. 

Rico Cain, president of the Lincoln County NAACP, spoke about justice saying he doesn’t know who killed Lamar Smith but wished if they were still alive that the “sheriff could bring him in today because justice needs to be served.” 

Voting matters

Cain said it upsets him when people don’t exercise their right to vote, especially after Lamar Smith fought for it. Lincoln County’s voter turnout for the primary election last week was just 41 percent of eligible voters.

“I thank God for Lamar Smith. He didn’t just come up here for nothing the day he was killed. He was trying to protect the rights of voters,” Cain said. “It upsets me when someone says their vote doesn’t count. Lamar Smith died for it. It does count. Remember to always vote. It is always important, it matters.” 

Moving forward

Griffin said Lamar was more than a voting rights activist. He was a husband, father, grandfather, brother, uncle, World War 1 veteran and owned a business in Caseyville. She urged the crowd to remember God’s forgiveness. 

“When you are saved you will forgive those who did something to hurt you. We have to forgive,” Griffin said. “I don’t know who shot him down. It was before I was born. We have to move on and lay aside our differences. Don’t be quick to point your fingers. We have to come together in love, unity and hope. We have to continue to make sure Smith did not die in vain.”