I’ve reached the land of corn and wine,
And all its riches freely mine;
Here shines undimmed one blissful day,
For all my night has passed away…
George Floyd and Laura and L.D. Nelson died on the same day — May 25 — 109 years apart. The Nelsons, a mother and son, were #lynched near Okemah, Oklahoma on May 25, 1911. Floyd died on May 25, 2020, a victim of alleged police brutality. As of this posting, the officer primarily involved has been arrested and charged with third-degree murder and manslaughter.
When I visited the L.D. and Laura’s unmarked graves in 2015 it was a shattering and haunting experience. I took the kids and Robert with me. The trip was harrowing in ways that only the five us will remember.
Dreams: Immortalized in Lavender
While at the graveyard, strewn with broken and weathered stones, dilapidated grave houses, and faded fake flowers, I felt Laura Nelson there with me in my sadness. It is not an experience I have felt comfortable talking much about until now. I’d been so sad that their graves were unmarked. I thought maybe I could do something to fix it. For example, I could spearhead crowdsource-funding to buy them headstones or commission a portrait of them, beautiful mother and loyal son.
In my mind, Laura would be wearing a lavender floral prairie dress. She would not just be immortalized dangling like a rag doll above that bridge in Okfuskee County. Instead, she would be frolicking as a young pioneer in a new state with her son by her side. It would be a portrait for the ages; one that would elevate their deaths beyond memory and time.
I know Laura loved her boy just like I love mine. And, I know he loved his momma so much. I think maybe he was defending her that day he shot and killed that sheriff. There were no video cameras or iPhones back then to capture what law enforcement was doing or trying to do. Was the sheriff groping her? Trying to rape her? We’ll never know.
I have dreamed of this painting a thousand times. I’ve imagined it hanging in the Oklahoma State Capitol. I worked in the arts and I know accomplishing this would have been no small feat. I would have had to advocate long and hard to make it happen and it would take a lot of people more connected than me, but I thought I could at least try. I thought we could do it together. I even talked to several artists but nobody grabbed ahold of my vision.
I thought these efforts would help us never forget Laura and L.D. and help ensure that things like this never happen again. I thought the painting would be a sign to everyone that the lynching days were behind us.
Man of Sorrows
Sometimes, I feel so alone in the things that break me. When I feel shame over my sadness I remember that Jesus was called a Man of Sorrows.
Sadly, the posts I wrote about the Nelsons drew very little attention and my ideas did not gain traction. It turns out people don’t want to share posts about unmarked graves of lynching victims in littered cemeteries in rural Oklahoma.
There is one thing that brings me solace. When I was at Laura’s gravesite I felt her telling me she wasn’t there anymore and that she had actually never been there. Her bones may have been folded into that earth but as I shared in 2015, her beloved soul was with God the second they lynched her and her boy above the Okfuskee County Bridge. May their dear souls continue to rest in the everlasting peace of our Lord. I hope these things never stop breaking my heart.
O Beulah Land, sweet Beulah Land,
As on thy highest mount I stand,
I look away across the sea,
Where mansions are prepared for me,
And view the shining glory shore,
My Heav’n, my home forever more!
Here are the three posts I’ve written about the Nelson lynching. The last one is my favorite because it’s about the sacrifices of old generations and hope for new.
Laura Nelson’s Grave
Oklahoma Lynching of Laura Nelson and Her Son
And, this one, How To Leave a Legacy For Future Generations.