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Unusual alliance hopes Clay County shares its dark history with lynching memorial

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LIBERTY, Mo. -- A 17-year-old Liberty High School junior, Audrey McBride has always had a love of history. But she had no idea.

"It's never really occurred to me that such a horrendous event could have happened," she said.

But it happened in her home county -- twice.

Audrey explores the Lynching Memorial in Montgomery, Alabama

She had no idea until her family took a Christmas break visit to Montgomery, Alabama, and the new National Memorial for Peace and Justice, also known as The Lynching Memorial.

Walking through the 800 columns, each representing a county where the 4,084 documented lynchings occurred, Audrey was stunned.

"And the sheer number of victims brought me to tears," she said.

She was even more shocked when she came upon the column representing Clay County -- home to two lynchings documented by the museum's organizers: one in 1,900 on the Clay County Courthouse steps, another in Excelsior Springs circa 1925.

A black man is lynched for alleged crimes

They account for two of Missouri's 60 documented lynchings. Kansas had 19 according to the "Equal Justice Initiative," which sponsors the new memorial in Montgomery.

She was shocked.

Shocked, Audrey said, because she doesn't recall ever being taught that part of her home county's history in any of her classes.

"I think it's wrong to completely ignore or almost overlook that this ever happened," she said. " I mean, the best part of history is learning from it."

Audrey McBride

A.J. Bird couldn't agree more. He's the president of the Clay County African American Legacy, headquartered in the formerly all-black Garrison School building he attended as a child.

"She and I can come together on this," Bird said. "This is what this is about. Community, relationships are very crucial."

Bird said he will support Audrey in her bid to bring a memorial marker to Clay County, as part of a nationwide program being launched by The Lynching Memorial.

It wants citizens in each of the 800 counties to support placing a memorial marker in their county in remembrance of lynching victims.

Audrey said after learning about the effort while on her museum visit, she decided to bring the concept to Clay County.

A.J. Bird

The pair admits it may seem an odd alliance: the white teen suburban girl and the older black man.

"It's the right thing to do!" Audrey said, smiling as she pondered the age and cultural differences between her and Bird.

She plans to discuss the marker with her county commissioners. Bird said he'll help support her efforts and speak in support of the idea.

A grateful teenager is pleased to have that help: "I know that people need to hear about this. That these victims need to be remembered."

Hear more from Audrey and Bird about their efforts in a special edition of FOX4's podcast Signal Hill below. 

If you're interested in reaching Bird to learn more about his organization, you can visit the group's website or reach him at 816-392-9265.

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