James Cameron survived being lynched from a maple tree in Marion, Indiana, when he was sixteen years old. Cameron, who kept a piece of the rope that had scarred his neck moments before he was spared, was the only known survivor of a lynching attempt. He detailed his experience in his well written memoir, A Time of Terror: A Survivor’s Story, now in its 3rd edition. In the 1940s, he founded three chapters of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). He also served as Indiana’s State Director of the Office of Civil Liberties from 1942 to 1950. In 1988 Cameron founded America’s Black Holocaust Museum in Milwaukee, devoted to African-American history from slavery to the present.
James Herbert Cameron, Jr. was born on February 25, 1914, in La Crosse, Wisconsin, to James Herbert Cameron and Vera Carter. His father was a barber, who abused alcohol and therefore often lost his job. The family moved frequently as his father searched for employment. First they moved to Indianapolis, then through a series of small towns in Central Indiana, before finally settling in Birmingham, Alabama, when Cameron was five. By the time he was seven, his parents had divorced. When he was about fourteen, his mother moved the family to the North Central Indiana town of Marion to be near relatives. Cameron describes his mother as a very loving, religious woman, who worked as a laundress to support him and his two sisters.