Ceremony: Terry Ward speaks at a small, private ceremony on Monday at Highland Lawn Cemetery in Terre Haute. Soil gathered from the site near the 1901 lynching of Ward’s great-grandfather, George Ward, was interred Monday at the cemetery. A historical marker, provided by the Equal Justice Initiative in Montgomery, Ala., was placed beside the burial site. Courtesy Crystal Reynolds
Ceremony: Terry Ward speaks at a small, private ceremony on Monday at Highland Lawn Cemetery in Terre Haute. Soil gathered from the site near the 1901 lynching of Ward’s great-grandfather, George Ward, was interred Monday at the cemetery. A historical marker, provided by the Equal Justice Initiative in Montgomery, Ala., was placed beside the burial site. Courtesy Crystal Reynolds
Terry Ward felt a measure of peace Monday afternoon. Long-awaited peace.

One-hundred and 21 years after his African American great-grandfather, George Ward, was lynched in Terre Haute by a vicious white mob that also burned his body. No one from the throng, which totaled more than 1,000 people, was ever held responsible for that atrocity in 1901. George Ward never received a proper burial.

A ceremony on Monday afternoon at Highland Lawn Cemetery gave George Ward’s memory a resting place.

The event was a third remembrance of George Ward, and the injustice inflicted on him, in the Terre Haute community. On Sept. 26, 2021, a historical marker was placed on Fairbanks Park’s north side. That’s close to where Ward was lynched by the violent mob that stormed the Vigo County Jail, beat him into unconsciousness and hanged him from the Wabash River bridge. The brutality denied Ward due process under the law, after Ward — a 27-year-old Terre Haute husband, father of two young children and Car Works Shop employee — had been accused of murdering a young schoolteacher, Ida Finkelstein, and arrested at his workplace.

It happened on Feb. 26, 1901, according to a historical account by Crystal Mikell Reynolds, a Terre Haute historian.

On Monday, a jar of soil gathered from the area near George Ward’s 1901 lynching was buried at Highland Lawn, near the graves of his daughter-in-law, grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

The soil was collected on March 1, the second remembrance event. Monday’s third remembrance, at the cemetery, also featured the placement of a second historical marker.

“From that perspective, we were trying to get a place to rest for him,” Terry Ward said of his great-grandfather, by phone following Monday afternoon’s small, private ceremony.

“It represents to us the proper burial that many African Americans desire to have,” Ward added, “and to let the spirit be free.” The effort to remember George Ward and for the community to acknowledge the injustice got momentum from several sources in recent years, including the Terre Haute Facing Injustice project, the Greater Terre Haute NAACP branch, the national Community Remembrance Project of the Equal Justice Initiative based in Montgomery, Ala., Reynolds, and Terry Ward and his family, as well as others.

George Ward’s killing was one of more than 4,400 racial terror lynchings that occurred in America between the post-Civil War Reconstruction era and World War II, according to the Equal Justice Initiative’s “Lynching in America” report.

The 2021 historical marker dedication near the riverfront included the reading of Indiana Senate Resolution 72 memorializing George Ward. Local public officials, including Mayor Duke Bennett and state Sen. Jon Ford participated in the dedication ceremony a year ago. That day showed a difference in Terre Haute from 1901 to 2021. “The difference is that the community rallied behind what we were doing,” Terry Ward said Monday.

The Equal Justice Initiative provided the second marker placed Monday at Highland Lawn, Reynolds said.

He called Monday’s quiet ceremony “a joy for me — a painful joy, but a joy.” The stigma that followed his family for generations after George Ward’s lynching has been lifted. “A lot of times, the name that you carry affects how you’re treated from generation to generation,” said Terry Ward, who grew up in Terre Haute then left to pursue his career in the utility industry in Indiana and California.

Public awareness of that dark moment in the community’s history can help prevent hate-driven attacks, he said. “If the truth is told, then perhaps we’ll never experience these injustices again,” Terry Ward said. “We don’t want to see this kind of thing happen to people of any nationality.”

Reynolds attended the interment of the soil and second marker dedication and said afterward by phone, “It was about peace and joy.”

Reynolds is originally from New Orleans, where African American funerals traditionally conclude with upbeat music. Monday’s ceremony finished with the Andre Crouch song, “Soon and Very Soon,” with the chorus line “Hallelujah, Hallelujah, we are goin’ to see the King!” “We believe that now the person is in a better place,” Reynolds said, “and we believe George Ward is in a better place.”
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