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Black pastor uses lynching photo to help get out the vote

A roadside sign in Indianapolis shows the 1930 lynching of two black men. The Greater St. Mark Missionary Baptist Church is using the sign to encourage nearby residents to vote.

A pastor in Indiana has put up a sign that uses a historical image of the 1930 lynching of two black teenagers in an effort to recharge the black vote.

Rev. Joy Thornton, the senior pastor of Greater St. Mark Missionary Baptist Church in Indianapolis, said he’s concerned that African-Americans have grown complacent about voting, and he wants to urge people to exercise the right he says was hard won, the Associated Press reported.

The sign, which has stood for nearly a week along the street in front of the church, shows, on one side, a white mob gathered around the teens to watch the lynching in Marion, Ind. Atop the photo is the word “VOTE!!!” Beneath it is the question: “Is this a reason to vote?” The other side of the sign shows an image of slaves in chains, with wording beneath it that reads, “Lest we forget.”

“[The sign] is to let people know there’s been a price paid for the privilege of voting,” Thornton, a black pastor of what he describes as a multiracial congregation, told Indianapolis' WISH TV. “Oftentimes people get complacent and don’t realize that people made a sacrifice, matter of fact, the ultimate sacrifice for such a privilege.”

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But not all like to be reminded of one of the most painful chapters in the state’s history.  

Ronnie Judd, who was delivering medical supplies in the neighborhood when he saw the sign last week, said he found the sign embarrassing. Judd is white, and said he interpreted the photo to mean that if blacks don’t vote for President Obama in November, the days of lynching will return.

“We have come too far to go back to those ways,” Judd told the AP.

Mary Bishop, who works across the street from the church, said she doesn’t agree with the sign.

“It’s not a good example for him to have it like that,” Bishop told WISH TV. “He meant well, but he went about it in the wrong way.”

Thornton said the sign isn’t meant to sway voters to vote for any particular party, but rather to urge participation in November's presidential election. He said he believes some black voters have grown complacent because of President Obama's stance on same-sex marriage. 

“Regardless of who you vote for, you need to exercise your privilege, which is voting,” Thornton said.

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Joyce Hise, who also works across the street from the church, said she didn’t have a problem with the sign.

“It was just kind of a little shocker,” Hise told WISH TV. “It made me stop to think. So many people don’t know, and they don’t realize this was part of our history, and it is a reason to vote.”

Joe Slash, president of the Indianapolis Urban League, told WISH TV that he agrees with the need to urge people to vote, but he doesn’t agree with the photos used for the sign.

Thornton, however, defended the shock value of the sign.

“I don’t think it is as harsh as the fact that when we talk about African-Americans being murdered and killed at an alarming rate,” Thornton said. “It’s not as harsh as the fact we make up about 12 percent of the population and about 90 percent of the incarceration. It is not as harsh as the drugs that we are being exploited within our communities.”

Thornton, who said he’s received two complaints about the sign since it was put up, has no plans to take it down “until the Lord says so.”

Watch WISH-TV’s full report.

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