In September of 1940, a mob of masked White men dragged Austin Callaway out of his jail cell in LaGrange, Georgia. They shot him multiple times in the head and arms and left him for dead. He was believed to be 16 or 18 when he was murdered.
Now, Fusion reports that almost 80 years later, the police chief of LaGrange issued an apology for his department’s failure to fully investigate Callaway’s murder, which resulted in zero arrests.
“I sincerely regret and denounce the role our Police Department played in Callaway’s lynching, both through our action and our inaction,” Chief Louis Dekmar said to the crowd when speaking at an African-American church. “And for that, I’m profoundly sorry. It should never have happened.”
In an interview with The New York Times, Dekmar said he first learned of the case two or three years ago. One of his fellow officers overheard a Black woman say, “They killed our people” while looking at old photos of the police that were on display.
But when Dekmar looked further into the case, the chief only found “sketchy” reports of Calloway’s murder. No records of an investigation, any arrests or any follow up from media covering the case at that time were available. Callaway’s death was simply described “as a result of bullets fired by an unknown person or group of individuals.”
While the killing was largely forgotten, Dekmar’s investigation revealed that Black community members weren’t able to dismiss it.
“There are relatives here and people who still remember,” he told the Times. “Even if those people are not still alive, down through the generations, that memory is still alive. That’s a burden that officers carry.”
Civil rights icon and activist Rep. John Lewis commended chief Dekmar for his actions.
“He was moved by something,” Lewis said in an interview with the Atlanta Journal Constitution. “I call it the spirit of history.”