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Insight Art Talk: Ursula Minor Recounts Chilling Moment in Lawrence History

Ursula Minor gives an Insight Art Talk to a gallery full of people about the 1882 Kansas River Bridge lynchings

Ursula Minor’s biography says she is Lawrence resident and activist in the community, but she is so much more than that. She is the president of the NAACP’s Lawrence branch, she is an artist, she is a storyteller, she is a mother, she is a wife, and she is a leader. Recently Minor stood before a crowd of people in the large gallery and told the chilling and brutal story of three Black men, Pete Vinegar, George Robertson and Isaac King, who were lynched along the Kansas River Bridge in 1882. She recounted the events that took place the night of their deaths and how it impacted the Black community in Lawrence at the time. Minor also told the story of Margaret “Sis” Vinegar, the daughter of Pete Vinegar, who was 14 at the time of the lynching. Robertson and King had caught an older white man, David Bausman, engaged in sexual activity with Margaret. Robertson and King beat Bausman, who was later found drowned in the Kansas River—the very river whose waters and banks would soon witness their own deaths.

While Pete Vinegar was not involved in the beating and subsequent death of Bausman, he was arrested simply because he was Margaret’s father. Margaret herself was nearly lynched by an angry white mob, but was “spared” and incarcerated in Lansing Prison, where she eventually succumbed to tuberculosis seven years later. Media coverage at the time was white-run, so little information about the events that transpired that night is available. During her art talk, Minor outlined the consequences any of the lynch mob members may have faced. She grimly told the audience, “There were none. Nobody was ever arrested.”

Minor said the three lynched man were buried in unmarked graves in Oak Hill Cemetery’s Potter’s Field in East Lawrence. The precise location of Vinegar, Robertson and King’s graves remained unknown until February 2021 when the Lawrence city clerk’s office discovered a chart of cemetery plots in a book of 130-year-old bond registers. Having found the three man’s names on the chart, efforts are currently being made to find their exact locations so they can be honored with headstones.

Since 2019 the NAACP has partnered with the Equal Justice Initiative in Montgomery, Ala., to completely document the slayings of Vinegar, Robertson and King. As a result the EJI’s Community Remembrance Project is working to document approximately 4,400 racially motivated terror lynchings in the United States between 1877 and 1950. In 2018, EJI opened its National Memorial for Peace and Justice, which contains more than 800 columns engraved with names. Minor went on to state that each column represents a county in America where a noted terror lynching took place. This project invokes the reality of these situations and illustrates to people that racially motivated acts of violence are not limited to the South, but have and continue to be national issues.

 

Ursula Minor standing before a full gallery of people.
Ursula Minor stands before a full gallery recounting the events of the 1882 Kansas River lynching.

During her talk, Minor also spoke of the murder of George Floyd and how acts of police violence against Black Americans are contemporary lynchings.

“The videotaped death of George Floyd was a modern day lynching,” she said. “Floyd was killed in broad daylight by police officer Derek Chauvin, who lay down with a knee on his neck for more than nine minutes. Lynchings like these should not be a part of American society today, as they should not have been 100 years ago. The NAACP continues to fight back against white supremacy and violence, and demand that people responsible, including law enforcement officers, be held accountable.”

Floyd’s name, however, is not the only one to be remembered and spoken—Dante Wright, Andre Hill, Manuel Ellis, Rayshard Brooks, Daniel Prude, George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Atiana Jefferson, Aura Rosser, Stephon Clark, Botham Jean, Philando Castille, Alton Sterling, Freddie Gray, Fanisha Fonville, Eric Garner, Sandra Bland, Tamir Rice, Tony McDade—the list goes on. Each and every one of those deaths were at the hands of police.  Topeka resident Dominque White’s death is also directly attributable to the police—proving these things can and do happen at home.

The NAACP and the Lawrence/Douglas County Community Remembrance Project Coalition recently launched educational programming leading up to the official dedication of the EJI marker for Vinegar, King and Robertson planned for June 2022. Minor said one of the events will focus on the Lawrence public swimming pool, which remained segregated until she was in 6th grade. Minor said she and her family lived across the street from the pool, and they had made friends with some of the white children nearby. She recalled watching her white friends walk across the street to enjoy the cool water as she and her family remained on their front porch suffering in the sweltering summer heat.

Minor’s at talk was followed on Oct. 9 by a soil collection ceremony and remembrance of Vinegar, King and Robertson under the Kansas River Bridge near where the marker for the three men will be placed. The soil, collected by Bowersock Mills & Power Company, has been drying to prepare it for a ceremonial placement in jars that will be permanently honored at the national memorial in Montgomery and at the Watkins Museum of History. You can follow this link to follow the Lawrence/Douglas County Community Remembrance Project Coalition Facebook page for updates and future events.


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