Yvonne Hayes Hinson left one funeral only to find herself at another. 

On Friday, after laying one of her close friends to rest, the former city commissioner was one of more than 200 Gainesville residents to gather at Mount Pleasant United Methodist Church and honor the lives stolen by lynching in Alachua County nearly 100 years ago. 

Hinson’s son’s great-grandfather was one of them, she said. Her son, Henry, is named after him.

Hinson hopes that when Henry learns more about his great-grandfather’s legacy, “it will not bring him pain, but pride,” she said. 

Somber silence interlaced with joyous cheers and applause as various speakers and performers took the church stage during the evening. Audience members rose to their feet, singing along as the 10-person choir led “Lift Every Voice and Sing.” The candlelit ceremony included prayer, reading of scripture, recitation of the victims’ names and remarks by family and community leaders.

This was the first time such an event was held in Alachua County, said NKwanda Jah, executive director of the Cultural Arts Coalition of Gainesville who helped organize the event. 

The ceremony served as a funeral for those who never received one and whose names were never recorded, said County Commissioner Charles Chestnut. 

Chestnut said the memorial was organized as part of the “Truth and Reconciliation process” to acknowledge the pain caused by the county’s racist history and begin the path toward recovery.

The Alachua County Commission began discussing this process back in June 2018, aided by research from the Alachua County Historical Commission (ACHC), said County Commissioner Robert Hutchinson. Between 1867 and 1926, more than 40 people were lynched in the county — the majority of whom were black.

During the formal reading of the names of those lost, Patricia Hilliard-Nunn’s voice rang louder with every call of the phrase “unknown.” As the UF professor of African-American studies read aloud the 46 names, many audience members stared at the floor. 

Hilliard-Nunn’s reading was followed by a rendition of the song “Hell you Talmbout,” first performed by Janelle Monae. Monae’s version reads out the names of black people who died at the hands of law enforcement. The performance at the ceremony, by a group including singer Kali Blount, announced the lynching victims of Alachua County. 

 “You can’t honor and recognize people if you don’t call them out loud,” Blount said.

The Rev. Milford Griner, a local pastor, community leader and advocate, stressed the importance of not just remembering old mistakes but fighting the racism that still lives in our communities today. 

“As we pray, let us never forget all those gathered here whether black or white, whether young or old,” Griner said. “Never let us forget we still live in a society dogged by the evil monster called racism.”

Alachua County will host a community workshop on Feb. 17 at the Senior Recreation Center, located at 5701 NW 34th Blvd., to acknowledge the horrors of racial injustice and get more involved in the Truth and Reconciliation process, Chestnut said.  

“We all have a duty wherever we go to lift our voices and stand,” Griner said.