On Sept. 8, 1940, a group of white men wearing hoods dragged a black teen named Austin Callaway out of a jail in LaGrange, Georgia, shot him multiple times and left his dead body in a rural area of the county, according to city officials.
For over 76 years, the brutal lynching was never investigated by authorities and remained unacknowledged by the city leaders.
But this past Thursday night, LaGrange’s mayor, police chief and community leaders finally acknowledged that “justice failed Austin Callaway” during a remembrance service for the teen. They also apologized for the lynching in front of Callaway’s surviving family and the black community.
“I, on behalf of the LaGrange Police Department, and the city of LaGrange, want to acknowledge the police department’s failure to take crucial action in its obligation to protect Austin Callaway,” LaGrange Police Chief Louis Dekmar said at a remembrance service for Callaway. “I am profoundly sorry. It should never have happened.”
Dekmar said he sincerely regretted and denounced the role police played in the lynching “both through our action and inaction.” He admitted the “record of the police department’s efforts to locate Austin after he was kidnapped is absent,” and that “not surprisingly — and, sadly — so is any investigation into his murder.” It was not clear what Callaway had been jailed for at the time.
The police chief also said he owed an apology to the black community “that has lived the burning frustration of injustice.”
“An acknowledgment and apology is necessary to aid in healing wounds of past brutalities and injustice, so we can build a better future,” he said.
LaGrange Mayor Jim Thornton said at the remembrance service that it is important to “know and understand the historic injustice … else we are threatened by the possibility of repetition.”
“Undeniably, progress has been made on issues of racial injustice and discrimination, but there is much more work to do,” Thornton said. “And until we have a full and complete acknowledgment of the past, we can never fully heal. That is why events such as tonight are so important.”
Other city leaders, including a judge and president of a college, spoke and offered apologies to Callaway’s family and the black community on behalf of the city’s judiciary system and the broader community.
Members of the local and state NAACP chapters accepted the apologies, as well as Deborah Tatem, a distant relative of Callaway.
“I speak your name, Austin Callaway, and ask God for forgiveness for the people who did this inhumane thing to you,” Tatem said at the remembrance service. “Some might say ‘forgiveness?’ And I say to you that I believe God when he tells us that there is power and freedom in forgiveness.”