Memory of Georgia lynching lives on in Bayonne

Documentary screens at Bayonne Public Library

James Fair, Jr.

The story of how the Fair family and the Bayonne community fought against a false and racist criminal accusation in Georgia in 1960 is rarely told. On Feb. 6, the Bayonne community gathered at the Bayonne Public Library to watch a screening of a documentary that tells that story. “Fair Game: A 1960 Georgia Lynching Story,” filmed by Clemmon King, who dedicated the film to his father, C.B. King, who represented the subject of the film, James Fair Jr. in court.

Born in Tampa, Florida, James Fair Jr. was one of many who moved with their families north after World War II.  Fair, his mother, two sisters, and brother moved to 49th Street in Bayonne. After receiving an honorable discharge from the navy in 1960, Fair, then 24, and a friend took a road trip to Blakely, Georgia. The trip coincided with the murder of an eight-year-old. Fair, wrongly accused of the crime and sentenced to death without a jury or legal representation, was facing the electric chair. He sat behind bars for 26 months while his mother and lawyers fought for justice.

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King filmed in-person interviews in Bayonne in 2017 with two of Fair’s daughters and Friendship Baptist Church Pastor Gene H. Sykes. Also interviewed was the late U.S. Representative Cornelius Gallagher, of Bayonne, who secured a stay of execution from Georgia’s governor.

“When we ignore a story because there is a multitude of others like it, we insinuate that the story of an individual is not important.” — Elizabeth Hanna

For students, a teachable moment

The screening, organized by Bayonne High School (BHS), was in a packed room that included city council members, the mayor, educators, students, and the general public. Viewers were left reflecting on the relevance of Fair’s story nearly 60 years later.

“I think ‘Fair Game’ was extremely informative, and James Fair’s story, a story I’ve never heard of until recently, and I’m sure I’m not the only one, needs to be told and appreciated around Bayonne way more than it is,” said Malaika Nzuki, a BHS student. “It shows how even small-town black people can get into these things that can ruin entire lives.”

“As I watched the movie I thought about how easy it could be to brush away his story, to lump it in with the rest of the stories of unfair treatment and lynchings of black men since it’s happened and continues to happen much too often,” said BHS student Elizabeth Hanna. “But to do that is a very dangerous thing. When we ignore a story because there is a multitude of others like it, we insinuate that the story of an individual is not important. It’s imperative to continue sharing these tales of injustice and overcoming it.”

Lynchings, defined as the killing of a person for an alleged offense with or without trial, are often seen in popular culture as neither here, there, or now. The film gave students proximity to the history of lynchings normally associated with the south. The only recorded instance of a lynching in New Jersey was that of Samuel Johnson, an African-American accused of rape in Monmouth County in 1886.

“The value of this is that you’re making a personal connection with the people you live in town with,” said Gene Woods, who teaches a black history course at BHS. “It shows the kids the history we learn about is relevant. It’s things we live with every day. This doesn’t just happen to people from Mississippi or Florida, it happens to people in Bayonne. It’s really important.”

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