Memorializing Isaac Smith, George Robertson and Pete Vinegar, Black Lynching Victims Buried in Unmarked Graves

Isaac Smith, George Robertson and Pete Vinegar were lynched by a white mob in 1882. Their graves are believed to be in a potters’ field in Lawrence, Kansas.

A determined group of volunteers in Kansas are looking for three unmarked graves from the 19th century. The graves are believed to be in a potters’ field in the city of Lawrence. They belong to a trio of Black men who were lynched by a white mob in 1882.

Their names were Isaac Smith, George Robertson and Pete Vinegar.

A city clerk recently discovered a plot map that gives a better indication of where the graves might be located.

Lynching was a means of enforcing white supremacy, suppressing Black Americans' political and economic power, and terrorizing Black communities. And according to the NAACP, between 1882 and 1968, there were over 4,700 lynchings in the U.S.  

The killings of the three men in Lawrence were not often discussed, said Ursula Minor, president of the local NAACP chapter. 

"Out of fear, most of the Black community didn’t say much about it. It was more of a hush-hush," Minor said. 

Now, there is a move afoot to memorialize these men and help the community come to terms with its past. 

“My hope, my hope is that I can do something that goes directly to the community that it serves,” Dr. Blair Schneider from the Kansas Geological Survey said.

One local historian, Kerry Altenbernd, is delighted that the search is on.  “Now that it’s actually happening it’s almost indescribable how happy I am,” he said. 

And although after so many years, there may not be much left to find, he insists that they must continue the hunt.

“But that’s not a reason for not trying and for doing the best we can. We can’t do more than we can do, but we can do all we can do. And, that what we should do. That’s what we owe the folks out here.”

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