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Macon County group remembers Mitchell Mozeley on the anniversary of his lynching

Cory Vaillancourt
The group walked from the courthouse in Franklin to the old jail and down to the bridge over the Little Tennessee River which Mitchell Mozeley was hung. The group placed flowers there in remembrance of Mozeley.

1898 was a violent year in North Carolina.  The white supremacist coup that took place in Wilmington that year is getting more and more attention as history is re-examined.  Similar racist violence took place across the state that year, including an incident in the mountains that can still be felt today. 

History teacher John deVille convened a group of marchers in Franklin on a cold Saturday evening.

“We are here tonight to remember Mitchell Mozeley, who was killed illegally by a mob 123 years ago tonight,” said deVille.

Mozeley, a Black man, was being held at the Franklin jail for his alleged crimes of burglary and assault of two white women.  He was lynched just two days before the 1898 state election.  That year, white Democrats worked to scare those who didn’t support their white supremacy agenda to not vote in the election. 

The old Franklin jail sits across the street from the courthouse, next to the town’s monument to Confederate soldiers at Rankin Square. The group moved to the jail to hear more about impact of Mozeley’s death.

“This fear campaign effected not only Macon County but counties all over North Carolina.”  

Credit Cory Vaillancourt
Claudia Aguilar has been researching Mitchell Mozeley's lynching and what was going on during that time period since June. She has published her findings on NC Gen Web.

That’s Claudia Aguilar who organized the memorial with deVille. She was born in Macon County and is a veteran. She has been researching this time period through old issues of the Franklin Press and history books. Aguilar shares the local news coverage of the act on NC Gen Web, part of a nationwide genealogy project.

“One the same night that Mitch was lynched, another man was shot at a poll location, a man was hit over the head with a rock and another man was stabbed in the chest. So this wasn’t the only act of violence in Macon County,” said Aguilar.  

The Red Shirts, an early version of the Klu Klux Klan, are believed to have led the violence. Just a few days later on the other side of North Carolina, the Wilmington Massacre took place.  At least 60 people were killed and the fusion government of Black and white men was overthrown.

deVille shared the story of Mozeley at the Black Lives Matter March in June in Franklin. That’s where he and Aguilar met.  

“They took Mitchell Mozely down to the bridge next to the playground and then hung him off of that bridge,” said deVille on the town square in June.  

Since last summer’s Black Lives Matter marches, deVille and Aguilar have started working on how best to memorialize Mozeley.  The National Memorial for Peace and Justice in Alabama run by the Equal Justice Initiative holds a memorial for Mozeley and for each of the more than 4,400 other Black people who were killed by white mobs between 1877 and 1950 in the United States. There were 123 lynching in North Carolina, according to the Equal Justice Initiative. A UNC project documents 173 lynchings in the state, including all races.

As the march reached the bridge over the Little Tennessee River where Mozeley was hung, Jake Jacobson explained he hadn’t heard of the lynching before reading about this memorial march in the Smoky Mountain Newsv. He lives out in Cowee. He says he was glad to attend and hopes it’s the start of a conversation in Macon County. 

“Do you think it should be brought to Macon County?” asked BPR.

“I don’t know. I think it’s something for the community to discuss - although a difficult thing,” said Jacobson.  

The group brought flowers to a lamp post on the bridge as a memorial and took a moment of silence next to the traffic.

The group is still making plans but a few items on their list is to bring the National Memorial for Peace and Justice monument to Macon County, end voter suppression and a call for the passage of an anti-lynching law.

Lilly Knoepp is Senior Regional Reporter for Blue Ridge Public Radio. She has served as BPR’s first fulltime reporter covering Western North Carolina since 2018. She is from Franklin, NC. She returns to WNC after serving as the assistant editor of Women@Forbes and digital producer of the Forbes podcast network. She holds a master’s degree in international journalism from the City University of New York and earned a double major from UNC-Chapel Hill in religious studies and political science.
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