Family of Jasper man dragged to death in 1998 continues fight against racism

Photo: James Byrd Jr. (Source: KTRE)
Photo: James Byrd Jr. (Source: KTRE)
(Source: KTRE)
(Source: KTRE)

JASPER, TX (KTRE) - Twenty years have passed since an East Texas man was dragged to death in a case that changed federal hate crime laws.

In June of 1998, James Byrd, Jr. was abducted by three men who offered him a ride in Jasper. He was then beaten and chained to a truck. Then they drove down a country road, dragging him along the way.

"It's been 20 years but, as a family, we live through it everyday because it's a family member and how he died is something that you never forget," said Louvon Byrd Harris, his sister.

For the last two decades, the Byrd family has made it their mission to promote racial healing.

"People die all the time, but he died a senseless death because he had no control, being born black. He died because of the color of his skin, and that is hard to come to grips with," Byrd Harris said.

James Byrd, Jr., was 49 when he was walking home from an anniversary dinner. He was picked up by three white men and driven to an isolated rural road. There he was beaten, spray painted, chained by his ankles and dragged for three miles. His remains were later found, his sister said, dumped in front of an African-American Church.

Now, two decades after his gruesome death, they continue their fight to end racism.

"Jasper has become a multicultural city since I've lived here. We need to get to know who's in our neighborhood and who's around us and to be able to embrace them," Byrd Harris said.

The family is making preparations to host a fun day Thursday to celebrate diversity.

"We're hoping that tomorrow (Thursday) will bring about the understanding and enlightenment that racism has to end. That no one has the right to take someone's life because the color of their skin," Byrd Harris said.

The Byrd Foundation of Racial Healing is hosting two events on Thursday to honor and remember James Byrd Jr. A memorial bench will be unveiled at the Jasper County Courthouse at 9 a.m., and at 10 a.m. a fun day at the James Byrd J.r Park will celebrate diversity.

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