Case Closed

The truth may set you free, but it takes a body to prove a 50-year-old murder

Franklin says she talked to many older family members about her uncle's story but found unexpected resistance to discussions of childhood and growing up in the racially divided South.

"To me it was so strange," she says. "I don't know if childhood was so painful and scary that they blocked it out emotionally. It was so hard and so terrifying living in this county that we had to stay out of the way. I don't know if my mom and her sister were emotionally traumatized that they blocked it out. It was just amazing to me when she said, 'I don't remember my childhood.'"

The reaction to her inquiries was nearly universal among older family members, she says.

The Reverend Jim Parsons opened the investigation into a long-ago lynching.
Mark Graham
The Reverend Jim Parsons opened the investigation into a long-ago lynching.

"That group of people, they are still traumatized," she says. "You can't get a lot of conversations out of them about it."

The fact that her uncle's real fate was revealed wasn't really a reason for joy in the family, she says. Family members who lived through the times of racial killings and death threats are still reluctant to visit the past, she says.

"It did open a door for dialogue," she says of the Observer story. "But I also know they haven't dealt with it emotionally, even if they saw it or witnessed it or heard stories about it. They never mention him...They haven't been through a healing process. They just forgot it happened."

What most amazes her, she says, is that the family seems to have chosen not just to blank out Jones' fate but everything attached to him. In all of her years of being around family, Harrison Jones was hardly mentioned and no one even has a photograph of him, she says.

"He was a light-hearted, really interesting guy. Even my mother could have said that, but she never said anything besides, 'I don't remember,'" Franklin says. "Did their silence protect them? Yeah, but did it make them better people? In a sense it taught them to keep their mouths shut, but will they take chances in life to achieve more? I don't know, but I feel like there's too much trauma in their lives for them to be all they can be."

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