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Columbia unites to honor 1923 lynching victim

COLUMBIA, Mo. (AP) — An overflow crowd gathered in Columbia at a historic black church to honor a University of Missouri janitor killed in the college town’s last lynching in 1923.

Civic leaders have spent the past year organizing the tribute to James T. Scott. He was dragged from his jail cell to a public lynching before he could stand trial on charges of raping a white university professor’s 14-year-old daughter.

Scott maintained his innocence to the end and said a cellmate confessed to the attack.

Several hundred people filled Second Missionary Baptist Church in downtown Columbia for Saturday's Scott tribute. A procession to the city’s cemetery followed.

Event organizers quickly raised thousands of dollars for a headstone to mark Scott’s grave that will explain his historical importance.

“We are here today not to mourn the circumstances of his passing, but to celebrate his life,” said the Rev. Clyde Ruffin, a theater professor at Missouri who is also pastor of Second Missionary Baptist Church.

The memorial service included descendants of Herman Almstedt, the German professor who, convinced of Scott’s innocence, unsuccessfully attempted to stop the murder after a mob stormed the city jail as police looked on. He was shouted down, threatened with his own lynching.

Ruffin and other civic leaders have spent the past year organizing the Scott tribute. After a memorial service that featured gospel hymns and tributes to Almstedt and a Missouri student journalist who chronicled the case, the crowd marched with a police escort to Columbia’s 190-year-old cemetery for an unveiling of the new headstone at Scott’s grave.

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