Williamston instrumental in getting historic marker for lynching victim

David Burke

6/21/2022

Dana Adams memorial dedication





While a pastor at Mentor UMC in central Kansas in 2007, the Rev. Dee Williamston read a book titled “Fire on the Prairie: Methodism in the History of Kansas.”

The book included a brief mention of the lynching of a Black man in Salina, a story the Kansas native had never heard.

“A Methodist documented it, but nothing else was said,” Williamston recalled. “It intrigued me. … During this time there were church meetings happening, but the situation with ‘the Negro,’ as they have termed it in that particular book, was still a conflict in the church.”

The Rev. Dee Williamston, left, helps unveil the marker for Dana Adams in Salina. Photos by David Burke

Nineteen-year-old Dana Adams was with three other Black men in a Union Pacific depot on April 20, 1893, when they were ordered to leave by a white worker. An altercation led to charges of attempted murder. After a rushed trial and with no representation, Adams was sentenced to seven years in prison. Headed to jail in Leavenworth on a Santa Fe train, the car was disconnected by a mob of 50 white railroad workers who handcuffed Adams and dragged him to the Union Pacific depot, hanging him from a telegraph pole. There were apparently 200 witnesses, but no one was arrested.

“It’s important to me because this young man didn’t even have a chance to live,” said Williamston, now assistant to the bishop and clergy excellence director for the Great Plains Conference. “It has intrigued me ever since. It has haunted me ever since.”

Williamston joined with her sister, Sandy Beverly, and the Rev. Dr. Martha Murchison, pastor of Sunrise Presbyterian Church in Salina, to form the Dana Adams Project 1893. The trio gathered soil from the lynching site for the nationwide Equal Justice Initiative and led the way for a historic marker to commemorate the lynching.

That marker was unveiled and dedicated in a ceremony June 18 in Salina’s Caldwell Plaza, as part of the city’s Juneteenth commemorations. The holiday commemorates when the slaves in the Galveston, Texas, area finally were notified that they were free, about two months after the Confederacy surrendered to the Union army and more than two years after President Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation.

About 100 people attended the June 18 ceremony in Salina’s mid-90s heat.

“This is a significant place to be at,” Williamston told the crowd at the beginning of the worship service and dedication, noting Caldwell Plaza — named for the town’s first Black mayor — was in between the City-County Building and the Salina Public Library.

Dr. Trent Davis, Salina’s mayor, said the marker, which details Adams’ death, should make people uncomfortable.

“Not often do societies get a second chance to do it right,” said Davis, who is Black.

The Rev. Dr. Martha Murchison, Sandy Beverly and Rev. Dee Williamston led a drive to get a marker for Adams.

Sheryl Wilson, executive director of the Kansas Institute for Peace and Conflict Resolution, congratulated those who led the drive for commemoration of Adams’ lynching for being part of a growing group of those telling the complete American history.

“It’s amazing how this has mushroomed throughout the country,” Wilson said. “To have it come here is a full-circle moment.”

Williamston told those gathered at the dedication that the lynching of 23 Black men were recorded in Kansas from 1895 to 1950, part of about 1,000 nationwide.

Following the ceremony, Murchison said that Williamston — a candidate for bishop in the South Central Jurisdiction if The United Methodist Church seeking election to the episcopacy in November — was a hard-working teammate, specializing in organization and planning.

Murchison said Williamston’s work was invaluable, especially “her determination and her passion.”

Williamston said the group would continue to seek recognition for Adams, as well as help to commemorate other lynching victims in Kansas’ history.

Beverly echoed those comments from the stage of Caldwell Plaza.

“We’ve got work to do, people,” she said.
 

'Witness'

The following poem was performed by its writer, Jennifer Rogers Gordon, a retired Topeka educator, during the ceremony:

The sun rose on that day
dust dampened by morning dew 
and hope sprang eternal 
in the robin’s songs 
Not in the one lost soul  
who rode that fateful train 
"Who will be a witness for my Lord?” 

Jennifer Rogers Gordon reads her poem during the ceremony.

We have been blessed to witness 
the beginning of lives so precious  
that we will never forget 
and some of us      
have been cursed to witness 
the ending of lives so precious 
that we will never forget 
“Who will be a witness for my Lord?” 

Seeking freedom for their son 
Wade and Mary still found a hard row   
to hoe staying in their place across 
the tracks that forever divides a town 
lives both black and white 
“Oh Mary don’t you weep.” 

A lone tree stands  
in defiance of years of trembling earth from 
the rumbling of steel wheels on steel rails 
and steel guns and steel hearts 
“Who’ll be a witness for my Lord?” 

A lone tree stands 
in defiance of the comings and goings of men 
who recite “in divisible with liberty and justice for all.”                
but with scars on their souls 
no love can bloom in fields sown with hate. 
“Who will be a witness for my Lord?” 

A lone tree stands in defiance 
when Mary’s boy-chile 
hung that day while those 
with eyes so blind could not see 
the curse left on their souls                
“Oh, Mary don’t you weep, don’t weep. 
Tell Father not to mourn.” 

A lone tree stands
stripped of trees and bark
in defiance of harsh season
where dust stings our eyes
and blizzards sting our skin
"Who will be a witness for my Lord?"

Even with our eyes closed
there are things we cannot unsee
grabbing hands
pushing bodies
faces filled with hate
"Who will be a witness for my Lord?"

Even with our ears closed
there are sounds we cannot unhear
the cry for help
shouts for justice by "the rope"
gasping for his final breath
"Who will be a witness for my Lord?"

A lone tree stands
stripped of leaves and bark
in defiance of harsh seasons
where dust stings our eyes 
and blizzards sting our skin
"Who will be a witness for my Lord?"

Contact David Burke, content specialist, at dburke@greatplainsumc.org.


Related Videos