GRAND FORKS — Nearly a century-and-a-half in the making, people in Grand Forks are set to bring dignity to a man who was denied justice.
Charles Thurber was the first African American to be lynched in what is now the state of North Dakota. On Saturday, Sept. 13, community members hope a memorial in his name can be a way to bring everyone closer together. The service is set for 10:30 a.m. to 12:00 p.m., at the Greenway in Grand Forks.
The memorial was first proposed by Grand Forks Central students in 1997. After multiple attempts, the memorial is finally set in stone.
Thurber was accused of raping two white women in 1882. He was dragged from his jail cell by a mob, beaten and hanged from a railroad bridge before he had a chance to a fair trial. The entire town is believed to be implicated in his death. Details later emerged that he may have been innocent of the crime.
Reverend Tawanda Murinda moved to Grand Forks in February, and became an active voice following the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis. The deaths of many African Americans in the past months have reminded him of Thurber's story.
"He wasn't afforded due process and he was hung because he was Black," Murinda said. "We've seen so many people die without due process, they may have been accused of doing something but they were not tried. It feels like 140 years later, we're still doing the same things."
The memorial offers the community a chance to reflect, pay respects and foster a dialogue about equality.
Murinda will lead the community inter-faith service. People from all walks of life are planning to attend. It's a task that has come as an honor and a challenge.
"It brings with it a lot of pressure, but it's also encouraging because I know that this is important work that matters to so many people," Murinda said.
Memorial organizer Maura Ferguson said many people worked hard to make this moment happen, and it could be a pivotal point in moving forward.
"It shows a bravery in this community, that I don't know this community was ready for prior to this moment, and it would be a real shame if we didn't continue those relationships," Ferguson said.
Ferguson also said a scholarship will be offered to high school students in Thurber's name from excess funds raised by a Go Fund Me page to get the plaque up. If the new fund reaches $10,000 dollars in five years, the scholarship turns into an endowment that will run in perpetuity.
The scholarship will be housed at the Grand Forks Community Foundation, and is designed for students who explain how they plan to engage in anti-racism work.
They will also be receiving a $3,000 dollar donation from the Red River Valley Labor Union.