On a cold Saturday morning on Carl Drive in Chapel Hill, a group of local activists and clergy gathered to remember a bitter moment in the town’s past. The event being memorialized was in remembrance of Manly McCauley, an 18-year-old African American man who was lynched near what is now Carl Drive in October of 1898.
The event was organized by the Orange County Community Reembrace Coalition in the hopes of raising awareness to the historical travesties of racial injustice in Orange County. The coalition is a group of local citizens who are committed to helping Orange County stand up for social justice and fight for minority equality.
Members of the McCauley family gathered at the site dedicated in remembrance of their ancestors on a piece of property presently owned by the Mason family. Elders from Hickory Grove Missionary Baptist Church helped to lead the event. Elder Mickey Mills led the group in rhythm on an African Drum while Elder Malika officiated. Soil was dug up from the designated spot and blessed by Elder Malika. The soil was then put into individual jars for the McCauley family members present at the ceremony. A special blessing was given to the family and the crowd by the elders. The family members gathered around the soil, prayed and mediated on the significance of the hanging 121 years ago.
Following the soil collection ceremony, the event moved to Hickory Grove Missionary Baptist Church for a presentation held by the Equal Justice Initiative, the OCCRC, and community members wishing to contribute to remember Manly McCauley and help find ground in racial reconciliation. The other organizations involved with the event were the United Church of Chapel Hill, the Chapel Hill – Carrboro Branch of the NAACP, Orange County Human Relations Commission, Marion Cheeks Jackson Center, Human Kindness Foundation, UNC Center for Civil Rights, Roger Eubanks Neighborhood Association, Women’s International League for Peace & Freedom, The Sonja Haynes Stone Center, and the Orange County Arts Commission.
At the church the Mills Elders held a Libations ceremony for Manly McCauley. This part of the service was conducted on the front lawn of the church. A libation by definition is a drink (usually water) poured out as an offering to a deity. The soul of Manly was called out as the libation was poured. Following this, Elder Malika encouraged those gathered to call out the names of loved ones who had died as the final libation was poured; this part is commonly known as the invoking of the ancestors.
Among the speakers for the event were Equal Justice Initiative project manager, Gabrielle Daniels who sincerely hopes that events such as the one at Hickory Grove will help shine light on striving towards justice for all.
“This event highlights opportunity to talk honestly about our local history, how our communities are shaped, we did arrive at severe injustices such as mass incarceration and wealth disparages by just waking up in our generation and suddenly it being upon us,” Daniels said. “Rather we have seen the legacy of history that has gone unaddressed, laws that have been unenforced, and a lack of collective social will to truly love one another despite class and race. This is our time to commit to that work.”
Manly McCauley’s family was recognized as living testaments of the journey of civil rights. The members were honored to be part of the day’s events and felt empowered to help their communities in honor of their ancestor.
The event also had singing performed by community member Jeremiah Marsh and an African dance performance by the Ebone Dancers under the instruction of Rashii R. Purefoy. The program ended with a call to action by James E. Williams Jr. who emphasized community involvement.
“Acknowledge that the past however horrible, has to be confronted and understood and appreciated if we are going to come together to build a better future,” he said.
Williams thanked the groups that helped make the events possible and lamented that by the community coming together, better and more inclusive days are ahead.