BY ANTONIA WILLIAMS-GRAY
In case you missed it, a memorial to honor lynching victims has opened in Montgomery, Alabama. Kudos to Bryan Stevenson, founder of the Equal Justice Initiative (EJI), for his relentless pursuit of justice for black folk, and for bringing public attention to this important issue.
The National Memorial for Peace and Justice is gaining attention because of its in-yourface-impact from the weight (literally) of the depictions of the 4000 men and women whose lives were brutally taken between 1877-1950.
The victims’ names, sometimes those of whole families, are etched into 800 steel columns which hang suspended – like so many bodies- in the open air museum. The metal columns identify specific places where the tortures were committed against citizens of this nation; from every quarter where lynching incidents took place- across the South, and near-South.
The legacy of lynching is difficult to fathom. It remains one of the hardest historical facts to swallow about this country, facts relegated to obscure historical documents; accounts kept in old journals; hidden stories, swept under the proverbial rug of our consciousness.
So many families of the victims have been rendered silent by the sheer horror of the brutality visited upon them- unspeakable acts of public killings- often celebrated in open-air festival-like environments where children were brought to see and hear the murders of mostly men – a few women – and where adults took photos of themselves enjoying the spectacle of black bodies swinging from trees/gallows.
Often, lynching was treated as sport, or entertainment: post cards were made with images of the carnage, and sent through the US mail, and penned with upbeat notes to friends or relatives!
That is why the large public viewing of the memorial is so important: lynching was often a public event, to which folk were sometimes invited to picnic.
That such a terror was visited on so many, it remains stamped on the psyches of every black person. I believe that as a result, we have developed- or inherited- a natural hardwiring that warns us, in advance, of any/all threats to our persons.
Some of us are more keenly aware of this extra sense, than others.
In fact, I believe that much of our hyper-vigilance toward real/perceived threats to our bodies is a direct result of the cumulative terrors experienced during slave captures/sales, the brutality of the chattel slave system, and lynching, e.g., the black lives matter movement, systemic mistrust of police, near-universal over-protectiveness of our adolescent males, to name a few.
hard to fathom Now, one hundred fifty years (plus) after emancipation, we remain on guard against any/all forms of modern day lynching.
Remember, it was not too long ago that a black body was dragged behind a vehicle ‘down south’. And, across the country, black males are still being shot in the back by police. Lest we forget, the battered and dead body of Sandra Bland, a rare female victim, is still subject to inquiry. By the way, the police officer who arrested Sandra Bland was just recently found not guilty of any misconduct.
Modern day lynching threats also include the daily terror poised over us by the current administration’s justice department policies. No small threats; they are being visited upon us in a variety of sophisticated measures, and not-so subtle forms.
Many have already commented on the actual and/or proposed roll backs to the justice system: the pending appointments of more law-and-order judges; the growing conservatism across the country under the ascendance of certain evangelical thought leaders, to name a few.
In addition, now we have to put up defenses against a growing new religion that threatens to unleash another round of the public lynching of our souls: Trumpism, coined by Charles Blow, Columnist, New York Times.
“Trumpism” Blow writes, “is the belief that even the least qualified man is a better choice than the most qualified woman and a belief that the most vile, anti-intellectual, scandal plagued simpleton of a white man is sufficient to follow in the presidential footsteps of the best educated, most eloquent, most affable black man.”
Why is this belief a threat to us? What does it have to do with modern-day lynching?
Because holding this belief emboldens those who already have a propensity to resort to violence against us; to take up the clarion call, in the name of their new-found religion, to violently act out on our precious bodies.
Look at Ted Nugent, who continuously calls for just such action; at the end of his precious guns.
I’m sufficiently scared that once unleashed, mob rule, the MO of common lynching, is just a hair’s breath away from the volatile and cringe-worthy pronouncements from #45.
I’m convinced that, what appears to be a spike in the growth of lone-shooter domestic terrorism, is the direct result of clues and cues taken from the tone and tenor of #45’s tweets and bald-faced disregard for the well-established rules of law. Even though thinly enforced for our protections, the men and women in blue are walking on tinder kegs themselves; the tight rope between law and order regulations and their blue culture bias against blacks.
One spark. Just one. Thrown my hands up? No. And neither should you.
Send funds to support the EJI, or similar causes. Visit the Museums and Memorials commemorating our true legacy in this country. Stand up!