In June l3, the U.S. Senate apologized to African-American lynching victims and their descendants for 100 years of blocking legislative efforts to end the uncivilized practice of lynching black folks.
When I first heard the news, I said to myself, “WOW! A miracle just happened!” Then sweat started to run down my face from the “bald spot” on top of my head because four years ago, I made a bet with my Des Moines pals, that I would “streak” for one block in the nude if the GOP-controlled Congress ever did anything to protect or advance civil rights for African Americans during the Bush years in office.
Being subjected to a hostile Jim Crow environment in Marion, Ala., during my childhood years taught me not to jump to judgment too quickly over what was said in the news about our people. After doing my research, I sorry to say I don’t have to become “indecent” in public. Sorry, my lady clerk friends at the Lake Street Dominick’s in Oak Park and the Forest Park Post Office. I’m afraid you won’t get to see “macho man.”
For the U.S. Senate to officially approve or disapprove any type of legislation, a roll call vote is necessary for the official record (a count). Unfortunately, to even get the unofficial lynching apology to the Senate floor, a deal or compromise had to be made, so the identity of each senator’s vote was not known.
The resolution’s supporters, mainly Sen. Mary Landrieu, a democrat from Louisiana, the main sponsor, along with Obama and Durbin of Illinois and many others had to settle for a “voice vote” (i.e. no count). The vote was taken late at night (past midnight) when most folks are home sleeping, including the major news media. This seemed to bear out the Shakespearean line from Macbeth, “Full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.”
Why the secrecy and trickery? To protect the GOP’s main voting base states and the senators from those 11 Southern states, the former confederate states of the “old South.” The senators from Mississippi, Alabama and Georgia, where the majority of the lynching atrocities took place, could now tell their voters of both races what they wanted to hear. They can tell their white voters, “No, I didn’t vote to apologize for killing black folks,” and then turn around and tell African Americans, “Yes, I voted for the ‘apology.’ Clever politics or shameful politics? I agree with the Chicago Tribune statements on this subject (June 14), which quoted novelist William Faulkner: “The past is never dead. It’s not even past.”
Since most high school students of all races are graduating knowing zero or very little about American history and African-American students knowing nothing about their heritage, it’s important that black youth in particular go and see the exhibit at the Chicago Historical Society, now on display for six months, titled, “Without Sanctuary: Lynching Photography in America.”
In 1877, federal troops were removed from the southern states, leaving African Americans at the mercy of their former slave masters. Blacks saw their civil rights slipping away fast for three reasons: vigilante violence, murderous white riots and the KKK seeking to maintain white supremacy. The Klan was supported by the local Democratic governments and sanctioned by the Republican-controlled federal government. The plan was total disfranchisement of African Americans and a return to servitude.
Lynching was the main enforcement method used by the racist local Democrats. This local brand of terrorism continued for a hundred years.
Ida B. Wells a black editor and female Malcolm X, led an antilynching crusade all on her own and investigated the use of “rape” as the most frequent excuse for lynching black men. She kept extensive records, and later the NAACP got involved in the fight against this inhuman, savage act. Wells started the fight in 1893. A brutal lynching of a close friend rallied her at age 29 to start a one-woman crusade against this domestic terrorist act of violence against blacks.
The number of blacks murdered this way range from an estimated 6,000 to 100,000 (according to blacks who reported hundreds of their family members were missing each year). Law enforcement then did not keep official records of killing blacks. In fact, most law officers were involved with the KKK and other white groups like the White League, Knights of the White Camellia, the rifle clubs of South Carolina, white line of Mississippi, etc. and would not indict themselves.
What makes lynching different from other killings is that it is the story of slow, methodical, sadistic, often highly inventive forms of torture and mutilation. If executed by fire, it is the red-hot poker applied to the eyes and genitals and the stench of burning flesh. Whether by fire or rope, it is the dismemberment and distribution of bodily parts as favors and souvenirs to participants and the crowd which was in a picnic mood: teeth, ears, toes, fingers, bits of charred skin and bones.
An example of a lynching is taken from the book, Without Sanctuary: “After learning of the lynching of her husband [he was innocent] Mary Turner?”eighth month of pregnancy?”vowed to find those responsible, and swear out warrants against them and have them punished in court.
For making such a threat, a mob of
several hundred men and women determined to “teach her a lesson.” After tying her ankles together, they hung her from a tree, head downward. Dousing her clothes with gasoline, they burned them from her body. While she was still alive, someone used a knife to cut open the woman’s abdomen. The infant fell from her womb to the ground and cried briefly, whereupon a member of this Valdosta, Ga. mob crushed the baby’s head beneath his heel. Hundreds of bullets were then fired into Mary’s body, completing the work of the mob. The Associated Press, in its notice of the affair, observed that Mary Turner had made “unwise remarks” about her husband, “and the people, in their indignant mood, took exceptions to her remarks, as well as her attitude.”
Dr. King and Wells both recognized that evil flourishes in the dark. Republicans in Congress should be ashamed of themselves for hiding in the wee hours of the morning to ‘voice vote’ on an important issue as homegrown terrorists.