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John Ashworth

John Ashworth is executive director of the Lynching Sites Project of Memphis.

Co-founders of Lynching Sites Project are proof of the 'butterfly effect'

By Published: June 03, 2019 10:59 PM CT

<strong>John Ashworth</strong>

John Ashworth

Chaos theory tells us that tiny things change the world. The mathematician and meteorologist Edward Lorenz first recognized what famously became the “butterfly effect” in an academic paper called “Predictability: Does the Flap of a Butterfly’s Wings in Brazil Set Off a Tornado in Texas?”

Whether that theory has merit in nature or not, I do not know. What I do know with certainty is that the tiny things done, relentlessly, by Randall Mullins and Sharon Pavelda via their co-founding of the Lynching Sites Project of Memphis had the effect of a ravaging storm, creating a safe space in Memphis to have difficult conversations about racial terrorism in Shelby County and beyond.

That storm has united close relatives who never knew of each other, when their ancestors fled in all directions as refugees from murdering mobs of lynchers. That storm has provided a safe space for the outpouring of pent-up grief and shame for descendants of victims, perpetrators and spectators alike at these events.

Communities beyond Memphis are inspired by the legacy they started, and are seeking to duplicate it in their communities. Most readers of this column may never have the privilege of meeting Randall and Sharon, as they are departing Memphis for Seattle to be near their daughter, son-in-law and two grandchildren.


David Waters: Waters: A couple say farewell to Memphis after 'grueling but healing' work on the Lynching Sites Project


Their gift to the community is a safe space to go out of the grief of racial terrorism by going through the grief of racial terrorism.  

Chaos theory was first defined by Lorenz, born May 23, 1917, in West Hartford, Connecticut, one day after the spectacle lynching of Ell Persons in Memphis. One hundred years later, Randall Mullins and Sharon Pavelda led the Shelby County community in a remembrance of that horrific event.  

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Lynching Sites Project Randall Mullins Sharon Pavelda

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