Jasper family celebrates James Byrd Jr.'s life on 20th death anniversary

JASPER, TX (KTRE) - Today marks twenty years since James Byrd Jr. was chained to the back of a pickup truck and dragged to his death in Jasper.

In June of 1998, Byrd was abducted by three white supremacists who offered him a ride as he was walking home.

He was then beaten and chained to a truck, which then drove down a country road.

It's a case that forever changed federal hate crime laws.

"It gets easier as time goes by, but some days are harder than others," said Byrd's youngest daughter Jamie Grant.

Instead of choosing to be down, family members wanted to celebrate Byrd's life and promote racial healing.

"I know my dad is rejoicing for the peace that has come from it and the love that was shared," Grant said.

A memorial bench placed at the Jasper County Courthouse was revealed.

The community also joined hands to express unison.

"It has been a change between the relationship with our community and people in this community," said resident Karen Adams. "20 years ago when this happened we were at uproar."

Byrd's eldest daughter, Renee Mullins, said she's found peace throughout the 20 years.

"What happened twenty years ago was supposed to happen," Mullins said. "God came and got my dad to be a vessel to let them know that this cannot be tolerated in America."

And even though their father is not with them anymore, Grant said they're happy justice has been served.

"It's not like we cut ourselves and put a Band-Aid over it and it heals itself," said Grant. "It's actually something that we have to cope. We learn to cope with it."

In 2009, The Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crime Act was approved to make it a federal crime to assault an individual because of his or her sexual orientation or gender identity.

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