LAGRANGE, Ga. -- A little known piece of LaGrange history has finally given the community a chance to heal.
LaGrange Police Chief Louis Dekmar made headlines when he apologized for a 1940 lynching that took place decades before the even took office.
A step that has moved the community toward unity, and hopefully trust of law enforcement.
"The truth doesn't stay hid forever," said Deborah Tatum.
She first found out about the lynching of her cousin while searching family history.
"Austin Callaway popped up, 16 lynched," she explained. "I questioned family members about to see if they had heard about it and of course no one had."
Through her research, she found her cousin, a 24-year-old African-American was ripped from a jail cell and shot to death by a mob of armed white men in 1940.
There was no investigation, no arrests, and no official acknowledgement of what happened until 76 years later, when Dekmar stood before Callaway's family and the community to offer an apology from the pulpit a historic church.
"I'm profoundly sorry, it should never have happened," said Dekmar during a January program.
Dekmar says he first learned about the lynching when two African-American women were heard talking about what happened as they looked at old photographs inside the police station.
He says the response since that apology been largely positive and could lead to better communication and trust for law enforcement going forward.
"This has created opportunities for dialogue, opportunities for relationships that prior to that acknowledgement and apology, I don't think would have been as significant as they are now," he said.
Now, a few words that Callaway's family never expected to hear, have become part of a push to learn more and take ownership of the past.
"I didn't think that that would have ever taken place," said Tatum. "I never dreamed that would happen."
Fulton County District Attorney Paul Howard traveled to LaGrange to meet with Tatum and Dekmar.
He's part of an effort to honor those involved in the city's efforts at the 2017 Urban-Elected Prosecutors Summit.
"They've got the right idea, communication, because in so many occasions, people want to forget or just simply look over something that has happened in the past. I don't think that there's any reconciliation, there's not any healing until people discuss the facts of what has gone on in the past, and that's why I think what they've done in LaGrange is so significant to our community in Atlanta," said Howard.
He says the city has had 37 lynchings that people may not know about, and other may still harbor negative feelings over.
A historic marker was placed outside the Warren Temple Methodist Church in LaGrange to remember those who lost their lives to lynchings.
For Tatum it is just the beginning of discovering her relative's story and finding out who took his life.
"You kind of feel like he has a voice now," she said. "Eventually we will find out more."
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