09.26.20 – BRIGHTON

On this spot in August 1908, a group of white men took William Miller from his Brighton, Alabama jail cell in the middle of the night and lynched him in the woods. Mr. Miller was a black leader advocating for better labor conditions in the coal mines when he was arrested on false charges of violence.

Coal mining in Alabama began with the use of slave labor in the 1840s. The industry boomed in the late 1800s as Birmingham became 'The Magic City,' but after slavery was abolished, coal companies' success depended on the labor of black workers forced into bondage through convict leasing, a notorious scheme where tens of thousands of black people were arrested for trivial 'offenses' and then 'leased' to private companies who worked them mercilessly.

In Jefferson County, leased convicts and poorly paid black miners posed a threat to white laborers seeking higher pay, and there were efforts to organize labor unions. Despite the workers' common interests, the sight of formerly enslaved people challenging labor practices represented a threat to the existing racial hierarchy that many whites would not tolerate. Mr. Miller's lynching was an act of racial terror intended to discourage challenges to the existing racial order in Alabama's industrial and agricultural economies.

– Equal Justice Initiative historical marker located near Brighton City Hall