Remembering lynching victim

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Memorial service pays tribute to local veteran and businessman Lee Snell

Members of the Volusia Remembrance Community Coalition pay tribute to Lee Snell at his graveside at Mt. Ararat Cemetery in Daytona Beach on Saturday. Local NAACP President Cynthia Slater (far right) also participated.
DUANE C. FERNANDEZ SR./HARDNOTTSPHOTOGRAPHY.COM

BY ANDREAS BUTLER
DAYTONA TIMES

In 1939, Lee Snell, a local entrepreneur and World War I veteran, was lynched on a stretch of road between Daytona Beach and DeLand.

Two White teens were acquitted of his murder on May 27, 1939, after a witness failed to identify them during a trial.

A ceremony to remember Snell’s military service was held on May 23 at Mt. Ararat Cemetery. Mt. Arafat was the only cemetery where Blacks could be buried during segregation.

The Volusia Remembrance Community Coalition, in collaboration with the Equal Justice Initiative, put on the May 23 event. The coalition gathered the information on Snell’s life.

“We recognize the injustice in this country and try to heal. For so long, no one has ever said in an open setting like this that we are sorry. It’s important to remember this history as we try to move on,” commented Daisy Grimes with the Volusia Remembrance Coalition.

Organization’s goal

The coalition is a local organization that sheds light on racial-related crimes in our local history’s past, according to its website, volusiaremembers.org. The goal is to honor, educate and reconcile.

“This is a beginning of us healing. Why bring up the past? We do it to educate, reconcile and acknowledge what happened. We must tell our children our history, including the bad and ugly,” Grimes said.

Accident turns tragic

Records show that Snell lived in Daytona Beach as far back as 1936.

He was a husband, father, grandfather and businessman, who had his own cab company in town.

Snell fought in World War I in France as a United States Marine.

It is reported that he hit a 12-year old Ben Blackwelder, a White kid, with his cab at the corner of Second Avenue (now Dr. Mary McLeod Bethune Boulevard) and Keech Street on April 28, 1939.

Snell was later taken into custody by then Constable James Durden and charged with manslaughter.

Taken from car

However, he never made it because while being transported to the county jail, a car stopped in the middle of the road blocking off Durden and Snell.

Blackwelder’s elder brothers, Everette and Earl Blackwelder, were identified as the two men on the road who took Snell from Durden.

“This wasn’t recognized as a lynching until the 1970s. Florida historically had the highest lynching rate per capital in the U.S.,” explained Dr. Rick Buckelew, a history professor at Bethune-Cookman University and a member of the Volusia Remembers Coalition.

“Even during Snell’s lynching in the 1930s, most states had stopped them by then,’’ he added.

High-profile case

During the high-profile trial, the courthouse was packed with many Blacks in the area attending and overfilling the colored section, according to records.

“It just showed the type of respect Snell had in the community. This was a high-profile case,” said Dr. Mary Allen, also a member of the Volusia Remembers Coalition.

Dr. Mary McLeod Bethune even wrote letters to the press and Governor Fred Cone tried to intervene on Snell’s behalf to no avail.

Bethune wrote, “With such unjust handling of the case, there is no place safe for a Negro in the state.”

Harry T. Moore and the Florida NAACP also worked on the case.

During the trial, Durden failed to identify the Blackwelders. which resulted in their acquittal by an all White jury of 12.

Earl Blackwelder died in 1967. His brother, Everett, served in the Army in World War II and later worked as a mechanic. He reportedly was in and out of the criminal justice system with alcohol related incidents and served time in prison for burglary.

Bringing awareness

The Volusia Remembers Coalition also will bring awareness to other local racial injustice events.

The coalition has identified four other lynching victims in Volusia County.

They were Lee Bailey, who died in 1891 near DeLand; Charles Harris and Anthony Johnson, both in 1896 near DeLand; and Herbert Brooks, between Ormond and Daytona.

The coalition will collect soil from the site where the local lynchings occurred. A sample will be sent to the National Memorial for Peace and Justice in Montgomery, Alabama. Another sample will be stored locally and rotated at sites such as Bethune-Cookman University, the African American Museum of Arts in DeLand; and the Daytona Beach Museum of Arts and Science.

Historical markers

The organization will also reveal historical markers at the lynching sites.

“We have to have hard conversations about racism, injustice, inequality, sexism and more. We can discuss these things in love,’’ Grimes added.

Lisa Stafford attended the memorial with family members, including three of her grandchildren.

“It was a nice ceremony and very educational. It’s important that we share this history. Our young Black youth don’t understand. The majority don’t know how hard it was growing up Black in the South,” Stafford said.

“They think they’re automatically accepted. I have biracial grandchildren. Back then, they would have been mistreated due to the one drop of Black blood making you Black rule,’’ she added.

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