For our proposal to The Equal Justice Initiative (EJI) to bring a Community Remembrance Project to Sarasota/Manatee, EJI asked us:
What, if any, prior efforts in these counties and/or community have taken place during the last ten years related to reckoning with the history of racial terrorism and racial terror lynching? Are you aware of any efforts that involved relatives of any lynching victims?
In our investigation, we discovered that Dr. Caryl Sheffield, a longtime educator and member of Asalh Manasota had a personal story regarding lynching.
Dr. Sheffield explained: "My grandfather, Mr. Caesar Sheffield was an African American man living in the town of Lake Park, Georgia in 1915. He had immigrated to the United States, possibly with his white employer from the United Kingdom following the Civil War.
In the 1910 U.S. Census, Sheffield was described as a farmer however, family lore records that he was an architect’s assistant and had built a “fine” home for his family: his wife and he had at least six children.
On April 17, Sheffield’s body was found in a cotton field near the railroad station. He had last been seen alive in the town jail where he had been incarcerated on the charge of stealing from the smokehouse of Elder A. B. Herring. Conversely, family accounts tell the story of an unnamed disgruntled man who wanted to take Sheffield’s home from the family and was refused.
In so many accounts of lynching, the truth is veiled. As Josef Seifert stated in his Journal Article, Is the Existence of Truth Dependent upon Man? “The judgment of which truth can be predicated and in which alone it can exist would depend in its origin.”
Therefore, was the accuser and alleged perpetrator telling the truth or are family accounts accurate? It makes little sense to believe that a stalwart family man with gainful employment would steal a parcel of meat.
After Mr. Sheffield’s arrest, a Mr. Moses Oppenheim heard a loud cry as a group stormed the jail, apprehended the black man and carried him off. He was found dead the next morning with two bullets in his body. (We have no identification for Mr. Oppenheimer who may have been a deputy.)
Thereafter, the family scattered. Caryl’s father, Eugene Sheffield, who was 12 years old at the time of his father’s lynching, later moved to Winter Park, Florida, and eventually migrated north to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.
A human life was taken and the perpetrators not punished for their crime.