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An Unseen LightBlack Struggles for Freedom in Memphis, Tennessee$
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Aram Goudsouzian and Charles W. McKinney Jr.

Print publication date: 2018

Print ISBN-13: 9780813175515

Published to Kentucky Scholarship Online: September 2018

DOI: 10.5810/kentucky/9780813175515.001.0001

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“The Saving of Black America’s Body and White America’s Soul”

“The Saving of Black America’s Body and White America’s Soul”

The Lynching of Ell Persons and the Rise of Black Activism in Memphis

(p.39) “The Saving of Black America’s Body and White America’s Soul”
An Unseen Light

Darius Young

University Press of Kentucky

In 1917 Ell Persons was lynched in Memphis, Tennessee. Persons, a black woodchopper in his thirties, was burned alive in front of a crowd of at least 15,000 spectators at the Wolf River Bridge after being accused of raping and murdering a sixteen-year-old white schoolgirl by the name of Antoinette Rappel. This essay provides a detailed narrative of the lynching, which garnered international attention, but it also discusses the reactions and activism of black Memphians in the wake of this horrific event. Robert Church Jr. took a leadership role and drove the establishment of the city’s NAACP chapter. This essay shows how the lynching of Ell Persons shaped and was shaped by the political, social, and racial atmosphere of Memphis during the Jim Crow era.

Keywords:   Memphis, Ell Persons, lynching, Robert Church, NAACP

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