I’m writing about lynching today, and if you think you don’t want to read about it, magnify and multiply that feeling by about 10 million and you’ll get some idea of how much I don’t want to write about it. So why do it? Because looking away from it won’t make it go away and not talking about it doesn’t numb the pain. The subject came to the forefront due to a 60 Minutes segment that aired in early April. It was narrated by Oprah Winfrey to mark the opening of a new museum in Montgomery, AL. It’s called the National Memorial for Peace and Justice and it is dedicated to the memory of the more than 4,000 Black Americans who were lynched between 1882 and 1981. That’s right–1981. I leave it to each of you to background yourselves if you are unfamiliar with the disgusting horror that was lynching. My job at this moment is to try and explain why I have to write about it. When I see or hear the word my gut knots. My head and my heart hurt. Lynching was proof positive that no Black woman, man or child was safe in America. No laws protected us. We had no rights. We were not guaranteed life, liberty and the right to pursue happiness. We were sport, prey. Why? Because people were angry that the slaves had been emancipated, angry that people not recognized as human could seek to educate ourselves and buy property and open businesses, could expect to be paid for our labor. And in the deep South, where the only thing that separated the reality of being white from the reality of being Black was shackles, poor, unskilled, uneducated whites bitterly resented the sight of former slaves taking seriously the idea of freedom. The KKK and those who didn’t feel the need to bother with sheets were America’s original home grown terrorists, for we were terrorized by the knowledge that at any time, day or night, we could be swept up and brutalized in unspeakably vile, disgusting ways, the burning and hanging being the end game. People turned out for lynchings. It was a party. You can find post cards that people sent to their relatives. As a child of the South I grew up with this as my historical reality. My home state of Georgia holds the record for the most lynchings. So my gut already was in spasms following the 60 Minutes episode and several conversations with friends about it when, a week or so later, I see the word LYNCHED in a headline. WTF?!
You probably saw the story: Seems a Canadian fellow journeyed deep into the Peruvian jungle seeking to experience an hallucinogenic herb known to the local population. It seems that the 81-year old Shaman he solicited for his experiment refused him, so he killed her, which greatly displeased her neighbors. So they lynched him.
I really tried not to write about this but I found that I could not ignore the feelings that arise in the presence of the word: LYNCH. And I can’t avoid asking this question: For those who want to Make America Great Again–is this what they mean? How many Americans are terrorized by other realities every day: Those who fear being grabbed up and deported. Students terrified at the prospect of being murdered in their schools. Women treated as sport or prey at work or worse, at home.
I hope I don’t have to write about this again. I also hope that the feelings and emotions that word raises and me one day will fade. I hope and pray.