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A group has formed in West Volusia to take advantage of a national Community Remembrance Project whose goal is to memorialize the victims of race-based lynchings.

The program was begun by the Equal Justice Initiative, a nonprofit that identified more than 4,400 race-based lynchings that took place in the southern United States from 1877 to 1950.

Ultimately, the local coalition hopes to claim historical markers that memorialize the four lynching victims who died in Volusia County, along with a larger county monument.

“I see this as an opportunity to do our ancestors right,” coalition member Felicia Benzo said. “To put things to rest in a peaceful manner.”

At the National Memorial for Peace and Justice in Montgomery, Alabama, 800 steel monuments memorialize lynching victims — one for each county where a lynching took place. The monuments await claiming by each county.

“Last year, I visited the National Memorial, on a very hot day, and was overwhelmed,” Monument Acquisition Coalition Co-Chair Cary Ragsdale said.

Ragsdale said his visit was so moving, so emotionally overwhelming, that he was struck by an urge to participate.

“I was inspired,” he said.

He began the local Monument Acquisition Coalition effort.

The Equal Justice Initiative lays out a process local coalitions must follow to claim their monuments.

Joining Ragsdale for the Volusia County coalition’s most recent meeting were Sharon Stafford, an Orange City resident and founder of the city’s annual African American Festival; Felicia Benzo, community advocate and founder of the CATALYST mentoring program; Davie Griffin, a retired teacher and local coordinator for the American Civil Liberties Union; and Evan Keller, an ordained minister and founder of Creating Jobs Inc., a nonprofit that mentors entrepreneurs.

The first step is to submit a proposal to the EJI demonstrating the local group’s commitment. Once that is accepted, the members will gather soil from each local lynching site in public ceremonies. The jars of dirt will be displayed at a prominent community location.

Then, the EJI will pay for four historical markers at a cost of $3,000 apiece. The memorials will include specific information about the victims, as well as general information about the history of lynching. The EJI will also pay to transport the memorials.

Orlando erected one of these monuments in Downtown Orlando in June.

Eventually, the EJI will send one of the steel monuments currently in Montgomery to the coalition.

The group is seeking more members to participate.

The next meeting of the coalition is at 5 p.m. Monday, July 29, at Mosaic Unitarian Universalist Congregation at 840 Deltona Blvd., Unit T, in Deltona.

For more information, contact Cary Ragsdale at ragsdale.cary@gmail.com or 407-820-5027, or Davie Griffin at daviegriffin@gmail.com.


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