TERRE HAUTE, Ind. (WTWO/WAWV)– Terry Ward had a hard time describing the mix of emotions he felt going into Monday.
“I’m feeling a little consternation, I’m feeling a little anxious, a little celebratory,” he said.
Ward has worked over the course of the the last three years to help tell the story of his great-grandfather, George Ward. George was a Black man who was lynched in Terre Haute back in 1901, something that has cast a dark cloud over generations of the Ward family, according to Terry.
“I believe in any community where you have someone who’s been accused of an atrocity like he was accused of, that your name is synonymous with his name, and it carries a bit of a, well, a generational punishment,” Terry said Sunday.
And Monday helped bring closure to Terry and his relatives. The family hosted a small gathering for a ceremonial, symbolic burial at Highland Lawn Cemetery on Monday, burying soil collected near the site of George’s death, and unveiling a marker explaining the historical significance of his murder.
It was the final step in a journey Terry started over three years ago, when he visited the Peace and Justice Museum in Montgomery, Alabama. While looking at a list of people lynched in Indiana, he saw the name of his great-grandfather.
“In there they had a section where they had caskets for over 4,000 individuals who had been lynched throughout the United States in that period of time from about 1880 to about 1950,” Terry said. “As I looked and saw them all, I wanted to see what was in Indiana. When I found the section on Indiana, I saw George Ward’s name there.”
Terry began working with the NAACP of Terre Haute to help the story. They also worked alongside the Equal Justice Initiative.
Dr. Crystal Reynolds, a local historian worked alongside them. She said the ceremony on Monday left her with an overwhelming sense of peace.
“He was able to accomplish what he started for the family, which is to honor his great grandfather. To make people aware of him, and to put him to rest. That sense of peace and joy is prevalent, it’s all over here today,” she said.
The ceremony took place a year to the day of another landmark for the “Facing Injustice in Vigo County” project. In 2021, they unveiled a marker at Fairbanks Park, near the site of where George was killed, similar to the one at the cemetery.
While Terry described this as the final step in his family’s journey, he said others throughout the state have reached out to him, asking to do something similar.
“For those people who have been reaching out to us in these counties in Indiana, and asking for an understanding of how they can be able to secure markers for their family members, it’s been very enlightening and very pleasing,” he said. “Had we not started this project, I don’t think other family members would look at their deceased relatives in the same way.”
Reynolds also credited others in the community for helping them tell George’s story.
“This was not just one group. It took a village,” she said. “That tells me that people in Terre Haute, they care, people in Vigo County, they care, they wanted to see justice done, and they wanted to make sure we remember George Ward, and we remember his name.”
And for Terry, Monday’s burial represented a chance to put his great-grandfather to rest, and give him the closure he sought after he saw George’s name in the museum years ago.
“Identifying this, bringing it to the attention of the society that we live in, has lifted the stain off the Ward family,” Terry said.