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Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Black Holocaust Museum Founder Remembered

By EMILY FREDRIX, Associated Press Writer
June 19, 2006
Star Tribune

MILWAUKEE (AP) - A man who survived an attempted lynching by a white mob in 1930 and went on to found America's Black Holocaust Museum was remembered Monday as someone who refused to let a shameful part of U.S. history go untold.

Several hundred mourners attended James Cameron's funeral, including representatives of the city of Marion, Ind., where he was almost killed as a young man.

"His life, humble and just, was so generous. But he had his eye on justice and peace. That was always there,'' said Father Carl Diederichs, who had known Cameron for years.

Cameron died June 11 at age 92. His funeral was held on the anniversary of the museum's opening, also Juneteenth Day, a celebration of the slaves being freed in 1865.

The Milwaukee museum, founded in 1988, was considered one of the first of its kind in the country. It used large blown-up photos of actual lynchings and other artifacts to explore the history of the struggles of blacks in America from slavery to modern day.

Cameron started it in a small storefront room and later moved it to an abandoned gym he bought for $1 from the city. He documented his own experience in a book, "A Time of Terror.''

Cameron was a teenager in August 1930 when he and two friends were arrested and accused of killing a white man during a robbery and of raping the man's companion in Marion, Ind. A mob broke them out of the local jail and hanged Cameron's friends.

"They began to chant for me like a football player, 'We want Cameron, we want Cameron,' " he recalled in a 2003 interview with The Associated Press. "I could feel the blood in my body just freezing up.''

He was spared when a voice in the crowd declared his innocence, but later convicted of being an accessory before the fact to voluntary manslaughter and spent four years in prison.

Cameron claimed he was beaten into signing a false confession, and he was pardoned by the Indiana governor in 1993.

"James Cameron's death, I hope, will push the conversation further,'' said Sherrilyn Ifill, associate professor at the University of Maryland School of Law in Baltimore. "I think he would have wanted it not to be the closing of a chapter, but the continuation and exploration of this important and shameful part of our history.''

Cameron had suffered from lymphoma for about five years, said Marissa Weaver, chairwoman of the museum board. He was involved in the museum's daily operations until about four years ago and had continued to attend special events and give speeches.

Cameron had said that one of his defining moments was a year ago when the U.S. Senate issued an apology for not standing against the lynching violence that killed more than 4,700 people from 1882 to 1968, three-fourths of them black.

"I was saved by a miracle,'' Cameron said at the time. "They were going to lynch me between my two buddies,'' he said, with thousands of people "hollering for my blood when a voice said, 'Take this boy back.' "

On the Net:

America's Black Holocaust Museum:

Submitted by Jacquelyn Turner

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