Historic Markers Across Alabama

Lynching In America / The Lynching of William Miller

Marker ID:  
Location: 3700 Huntsville Avenue, Bessemer, AL
County: Jefferson
Coordinates: N 33° 25.808    W 086° 57.074
  33.43013333    -86.95123333
Style: Free Standing **
Waymark: WMV07A


Lynching In America

Thousands of black people were the victims of lynching and racial violence in the United States between 1877 and 1950. The lynching of African Americans during this era was a form of racial terrorism intended to intimidate black people and enforce racial hierarchy and segregation. Lynching was most prevalent in the South. After the Civil War, there was violent resistance to equal rights for African Americans and an ideology of white supremacy led to violent abuse of racial minorities and decades of political, social, and economic exploitation. Lynching became the most public and notorious form of terror and subordination. White mobs were usually permitted to engage in racial terror and brutal violence with impunity. Many black people were pulled out of jails or given over to mobs by law enforcement officials who were legally required to protect them. Terror lynchings often included burning and mutilation, sometimes in front of crowds numbering in the thousands. Many of the names of lynching victims were not recorded and will never be known, but over 300 documented lynchings took place in Alabama alone. Jefferson County had the highest number in Alabama (29) and the ninth highest total lynchings in the nation during the era of terror lynching.

The Lynching of William Miller

On this spot in August 1908, a group of white men took William Miller from his Brighton, Alabama jail cell in the middle of the night and lynched him in the woods nearby. Mr. Miller a black leader advocating for better labor conditions in the coal mines when he was arrested on false charges of violence. Coal mining in Alabama began with the use of slave labor in the 1840s. The industry boomed in the late 1800s as Birmingham became "The Magic City," but after slavery was abolished, coal companies' success depended on the labor of black workers forced into bondage through convict leasing, a notorious scheme where tens of thousands of black people were arrested for trivial"offenses” and then"leased” to private companies who worked them mercilessly. In Jefferson County, leased convicts and poorly paid black miners posed a threat to white laborers seeking higher pay. and there were efforts to organize labor unions. Despite the workers' common interests, the sight of formerly enslaved people challenging labor practices represented a threat to the existing racial hierarchy that many whites would not tolerate. Mr. Miller's lynching was an act of racial terror intended to discourage challenges to the existing racial order in Alabama's industrial and agricultural economies.

2015 by the Equal Justice Initiative and the City of Brighton.

End of Lynching In America / The Lynching of William Miller