GALENA — A historical exhibit featuring a replica of the noose used in Missouri’s last legal hanging drew fire Friday from Democrats who said its presence near polls amounted to racist “voter intimidation.”
The exhibit in the Stone County Courthouse, which also features other artifacts and newspaper clippings about the 1937 execution of Roscoe Jackson, a white man convicted of murder, first drew notice more than a week ago.
A voter who found the display offensive took a photo and provided it to federal civil rights enforcement and state Democratic Party officials. Democratic officials in turn provided the photo to news outlets Friday and released multiple statements demanding the noose’s removal.
One statement, from House Democrats’ campaign arm, cast the noose on display as a terrible reminder of a dark chapter in history when Black people could be hung simply for exercising their rights.
“It is unconscionable to have such a symbol of violence and terror at the exact location where voters go to exercise their most fundamental right,” the statement read.
Clem Smith, the acting director of the state Democrat Party, called the display “clear intimidation targeting Black voters.”
“This symbol’s purpose is to stoke the fires of racial prejudice and strike fear in the hearts of people of color,” Smith added.
Yinka Faleti, the Democratic candidate for Secretary of State, said the display is “yet another painful reminder that in 2020, we still have not come far enough and we have many more miles to go.”
Mark Maples, Stone County’s presiding commissioner, said that wasn’t the county’s intent at all.
In an interview at the courthouse Saturday, he told a reporter the noose is merely part of a collection of items from a historic event that happened right outside the courthouse.
“It never once entered our minds as an intimidation issue,” Maples said. “We just don’t think that way.”
He also noted that the items had been on display for at least four or five years and were topped by an exhibit featuring memorabilia from the U.S.S. Stone County, a Navy tank landing ship named after the counties here and in Arkansas and Mississippi.
He said he now understands why others were offended by the noose, and noted it has since been covered by a brown sheet of paper, which he said would remain through Election Day.
The exhibit’s future beyond that is unclear.
Maples said he and the other two county commissioners would likely discuss its future soon, but made clear he thinks it should stay.
“I think it’s part of the history here in Stone County,” he said. “It was a lawful, public hanging — of a white man — and it was one of the last ones in Missouri.”
“Are we proud of it? No,” he said. “But it’s part of our history.”
Austin Huguelet is the News-Leader’s politics reporter. Got something he should know? Have a question? Call him at 417-403-8096 or email him at email@example.com. You can also support local journalism at News-Leader.com/subscribe.