In a couple weeks, the National Memorial for Peace and Justice will be opening in Montgomery, Ala. commemorating the lives of people lynched and killed in America.
Within the memorial are names of several lynching victims from South Carolina, including Richard Puckett who was lynched in Laurens County on August 12, 1913.
He is one of around eight documented lynchings from that county. According to the Equal Justice Initiative, there were 185 lynchings in South Carolina from 1877 to 1950.
Reverend David Kennedy is Puckett’s great-great nephew and says his family has passed down Puckett’s story.
He says Puckett was working for a white man who was having an affair with another lady. He says the man asked Puckett to deliver a note for him.
“Richard couldn’t read or write, so in obedience he carried the note, and the lady’s friend or husband got the note,” Kennedy said.
Kennedy says the woman told her husband that Puckett was trying to date her to keep her husband from finding out about her alleged affair.
Kennedy says when Puckett heard the woman tell her husband that story, he ran. He sought refuge in Kennedy’s grandfather’s home, but he was eventually arrested.
A newspaper article from the time says Puckett was charged with attempted criminal assault even though he denied it, and the woman failed to identify him. It says a mob of 2000 people went to the jail around 12:30 in the morning and grabbed Puckett before hanging him to a beam of a railroad trestle and shooting him hundreds of times.
However, Kennedy says what’s written isn’t correct because there was no attempted assault.
“Richard was a good guy,” Kennedy said. “He wouldn’t dream of doing something like that.”
Kennedy says the trestle was over the main road that went from the black community to downtown Laurens. He says the rope the mob hung Puckett with stayed in that same place until 1985 when the railroad closed up the trestle.
“I grew up with the rope, Kennedy said. “We had to see the rope all the time…The same rope that was there was the same rope they used to hang Richard Puckett, my great-great uncle.”
Kennedy says nobody removed it because white people in the community incited fear he says by telling them, “If anybody took that rope down, the same thing that happened to Richard Puckett is going to happen to them.”
Now, Puckett’s story and more than 4000 others are remembered in the national memorial.
However, Kennedy who owns the building where the Redneck Shop, a white supremacist and KKK store in downtown Laurens, used to be is hoping he can raise money to turn the same shop into a memorial for local victims of lynchings.
“You can’t hide truth,” Kennedy said. “You have to tell it like it is before a real healing can take place.”
Kennedy says he has a meeting planned next week to talk about fundraising efforts.
The national memorial opens to the public on April 26. You can find out more here.