The Edgecombe County Sheriff, a district solicitor, and several outside parties (including the NAACP) conducted investigations into Oliver Moore’s lynching, but no one in the community would come forward with information. There were dozens, perhaps hundreds, of people in this small rural community who could have identified the perpetrators of the crime. No one did.
This silence underscores the fact that Moore’s lynching was truly an act of terrorism. Moore’s murderers terrorized the entire community. Black men could imagine the same thing happening to them. Black women could imagine the same thing happening to their sons, husbands, brothers, or fathers. Even white women were terrorized as white men repeated the refrain that they should be grateful for such violence because it was a necessary chivalrous protection of their sexual purity and morality.
This was 1930—the dawn of the Great Depression—and the economic status of white farmers in rural Eastern North Carolina was only marginally better than the black laborers who worked their fields. Gripped by fear and uncertainty, these white men turned to terrorism. In doing so, they traumatized an entire community. As the silence around Moore’s murder remained unbroken for decades, so did the collective trauma.
Freeman Vines said this about working on some of the guitars in this exhibit: “I felt the wood was trying to talk to me, trying to tell me something.” We might imagine that the voices coming through the wood were some of the voices silenced by acts of terror like Oliver Moore’s lynching. Perhaps this exhibit can spark new dialogue, moving beyond generational silence and helping to heal the collective trauma of the past.