Salina steps up to show lynching ‘did happen in Kansas’

Community members placed a stone at the previously unmarked grave of Dana Adams of Salina during a Juneteenth celebration in 2009. (Abner Perney)

Sandy Beverly has lived in Salina for 50 years. She retired a couple of years ago from her job as an investigator with the city’s human relations office, which dealt with discrimination cases. She’s been secretary of the local NAACP chapter for several years.

But for much of that time, she’d never heard about the lynching of Dana Adams.

Described by the Salina Daily Republican in 1893 as “a well known negro tough,” Adams was one of four Black men supposedly “loafing” at the Union Pacific train depot at 6:30 one morning. When the janitor ordered them out, Adams argued. The two fought, and Adams cut the janitor with a razor (his injury was not fatal). Someone called the sheriff. Adams was taken to jail. Hearing rumors he would be lynched, the sheriff put Adams on a train for Leavenworth. But the train sat at the station long enough for someone to uncouple Adams’ car, which stayed on the tracks as the train pulled away.

  Immediately a crowd converged upon the passenger coach, gained entry and overpowered the sheriff and his deputies. The mob dragged their victim from the train to the Union Pacific depot and hanged him from a telegraph pole on April 20, 1893. No arrests for this murder were ever made. Adams' father refused to assume responsibility for the burial, saying the white people had killed him and they should bury him.   – Gypsum Hill Cemetery Historical Walk, published by the City of Salina, Parks & Recreation and the Salina Public Library

Beverly finally heard this story during a Juneteenth celebration in 2009 when some others placed a stone on what had been Adams’ unmarked grave. She was most fascinated by one detail in the newspaper accounts.

“They said nobody recognized these people who took the man from the train and hung him,” Beverly says.

  Sheriff Anderson and Deputy Phillips stated that there was fully two hundred in the crowd, but a large number were spectators who had been attracted by the shooting and took no part. The officers say that the leaders were strangers and unknown to any of the officers. They saw many Salina faces in the crowd, but Salina people did not seem to be taking an active part. All three officers stated that they thought the leaders in the mob were railroad employes (sic) from neighboring towns.   Salina Daily Republican, April 21, 1893

“We have some very old, longstanding families in this community,” Beverly notes. “I was like, huh. You can’t convince me that nobody in Salina saw any of this happen.”

Last week, I wrote about the 1901 lynching of Fred Alexander in Leavenworth. I was arguing that Kansas could help heal America’s divides by facing more of its racist truths. One way to do that is in partnership with the Equal Justice Initiative in Montgomery, Alabama, which helps with community remembrance projects to place historical markers at lynching sites.

It turns out two such efforts are already underway. One is in Lawrence, which we’ll hear more about in the days ahead. The other is in Salina.

Beverly and two ministers — Delores ‘Dee’ J. Williamston, district superintendent for the Great Plains United Methodist Conference, and Martha Murchison, pastor of Sunrise Presbyterian — are working with the Equal Justice Initiative on behalf of a much larger coalition formed over the summer to bring a marker to Salina.

It was Williamston who led the 2009 Juneteenth celebration to place a headstone where Adams was buried.

Sandy Beverly, left, and Dee Williamston are two of the leaders working with the Equal Justice Initiative on the Dana Adams community remembrance project in Salina. (Submitted to Kansas Reflector)

“We were just trying to tell the community this did happen in Kansas,” says Williamston, who grew up in Topeka. “We’re not the deep south. I think most people don’t know lynchings happened all over all over the country, even in the middle of the Great Plains.”

Murchison was moved to action after a visit to the EJI’s museum and memorial not long after it opened in 2018.

“I went to their website and there’s an interactive map you can click on places where they have lynchings memorialized,” says Murchison, who grew up in South Carolina. “I expected to find the town that I grew up in with a red dot and there wasn’t one. But then I noticed a red dot in the middle of the country. I clicked on it and it was Saline County. I was stupefied.”

In fact, the Equal Justice Initiative lists 19 lynchings in Kansas between 1882 and 1920.

After her trip to Montgomery, Murchison began talking with groups around Salina.

“It’s been a known fact,” she says of Adams’ lynching — historians have given presentations about it, and the library produced a booklet for the cemetery walk.

“But we haven’t really grappled with it, that it was such an injustice,” Murchison says.

Many people in Salina were horrified when it happened, she adds.

“You could hear it in the editorials of the time — they were deeply ashamed. Upstanding citizens said, ‘That’s not who we are and we shouldn’t do this,’ ” she says.

Still, she says, Kansas needs to own its history.

“To give those victims justice, at least in terms of recognition of what happened to them,” Murchison says.

Beverly says her grandchildren have been listening to her talk about the project. She tells them she’s doing it because she wants people to stop and think before they act.

“If it’s that easy to designate someone unfit, unhuman because of a disability, the color of their skin, their sex, their sexual orientation — all the stupid labels — be aware because it could be you,” she says.

“Someone could decide whatever it is about you is the wrong thing and could target you,” she says. “History has proven that over and over again. That’s what we do.”