In 1940, a black teenager was lynched in LaGrange. The crime was barely acknowledged and for years it was forgotten.
Until Thursday night. More than 70 years later, the LaGrange Police Chief officially said, “I’m sorry.”
'It should never have happened.'
Two hundred people packed into the pews of Warren Temple United Methodist Church in LaGrange.
The audience was evenly mixed, black and white. LaGrange police officers stood along the sides.
From the stage, Police Chief Lou Dekmar started a story.
“Austin was under arrest at the Lagrange Police Department when he was forcibly taken from custody by at least six men wearing hoods and armed with a gun,” Dekmar said.
Austin Callaway was only 16. He was accused of assaulting a white woman. Before any trial, the hooded men took him to the outskirts of town and shot him.
“The record of the police department’s efforts to locate Austin after he was kidnapped is absent," Dekmar said. "Not surprisingly so is any investigation into his murder.”
The killers were never brought to justice.
'It Makes A Difference'
Chief Dekmar only learned of the lynching a couple of years ago. He said he wants to recognize it to build trust in the community.
“As the LaGrange police chief, I sincerely regret and denounce the role our police department played in Austin’s lynching,” Dekmar said. “And for that I’m profoundly sorry. It should never have happened.”
The crowd applauded. Eventually Dekmar spurred a standing ovation.
The admission mattered especially to the black members in the audience, like Bobbie Hart.
“I’ve never really heard, a white man or a white woman say, ‘I’m sorry for what we did' in this city,” Hart said. “And it makes a difference.”
She and many others in the crowd said the apology gave the city a way to move forward.