And Justice For All: Tim Cole Memorial Park Becomes Backdrop for Lubbock Activists

On a balmy September night in Lubbock, protesters gather on the busy corner of 19th and University, at Tim Cole Memorial Park for Stand Against Hate, to counter-demonstrate against recent white supremacist and Neo-Nazi rallies across the nation, such as the infamous one in Charlottesville, VA. The unofficial meeting point within this pocket-sized park in central Lubbock is the 13-foot bronze statue of the park’s namesake Timothy Cole, a Texas Tech student wrongfully convicted of raping another student in 1985. Sentenced to 25 years in prison, he was still there when he died in 1999, at the age of 39, from complications associated with asthma. He resolutely maintained his innocence all along, even when offered plea deals for lesser sentences that included his admission of guilt. A decade after his death, DNA evidence and a confession by the actual perpetrator cleared Cole of wrongdoing, and he was the first person in Texas to be posthumously exonerated for a crime he did not commit.

Tim Cole Memorial Park, Artist: Eddie Dixon

Unveiled almost exactly three years ago, in September 2014, the sculpture of Tim Cole, by Lubbock artist Eddie Dixon, depicts the young man in towering relief set against the shallow backdrop of an arched doorway, reminiscent of the Spanish Renaissance-style of architecture at Texas Tech University. Cole wears a sweater, slacks, and penny loafers; under his right arm, clutched to his chest, is a stack of textbooks. On the spine of one of the books is the title, Lest We Forget. Cole’s gaze is resolutely set toward the university across the street—its law school—while his body is directed toward the church parking lot where the rape occurred. One of his shoes bears the date of the rape for which he was convicted; the other, the date of his own death in prison. Across the base of the statue is the inscription And Justice For All.

Stand Against Hate Rally, September 14th, 2017

A symbol of grace in the face of grave injustice, as well as of ultimate justice—albeit long-deferred, it is fitting that Tim Cole’s statue has become Lubbock’s site for peaceful demonstration on behalf of social justice issues. Mark Wiebe, who participated alongside his wife and young daughters in the Lubbock Women’s March at the park in January 2017, observed that “it [seemed] really appropriate for people to publicly speak in support of the marginalized in proximity to a statue that’s meant to make that sort of speech a part of Lubbock’s public memory.” Along with the Lubbock Women’s March, past rallies have included No Bans No Walls, Black Lives Matter, and Dakota Access Pipeline, just to name a few.

Occupy Lubbock, in 2011-2012, settled in this corner location long before it was Tim Cole Memorial Park; but since the park’s dedication in 2014, it has fluidly and in a grass-roots-sort-of-way become the epicenter for Lubbock community activism. Lubbock Christian University English professor Shenai Alonge thinks it is because of the establishment of the park, and the placement of Dixon’s sculpture of Cole there, that the site has taken on this new significance. Alonge, who attended a Black Lives Matter demonstration alongside some of her students in August 2016, noted that the students, particularly the Black students, said they found inspiration in Cole’s statue and in his story. “The statue not only inspires them to continue in the struggle,” Alonge explained, “but also gives them strength and courage in the face of counter-demonstrators and many of the people who drive by and shout [or] do hateful and scary things in response to BLM or other social justice demonstrations. I believe this speaks to much of why the location and art have become so central to many community rallies and demonstrations.”

Images: No Ban No Walls, Women's March

Eddie Dixon’s sculpture serves as a tangible sign of Tim Cole’s own integrity in the face of a tragic wrong, as well as of a hope for justice’s final triumph. It is this paradox of hope in the midst of injustice that draws Lubbock activists to the massive bronze statue. Cole’s brother, Cory Session, said it best in a 2014 CNN interview: “[Tim] left here with his head bowed, and arms and legs in shackles. Today he returns standing tall, uncompromised. But not unsung.” Dixon’s artwork, as it embodies Cole’s story, serves as a site for reconciliation.

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