Last month, I spoke to M.C. Robinson, a suburban elected official who migrated to Chicago from the South several decades ago. While standing outside of a polling place, he spoke about the moment when as a child in the South he witnessed what turned out to have been the scene of a lynching. The truth of that moment, however, unfolded gradually.
I came from Arkansas. I saw my first lynching or a place where a lynching was when I was 9 years old. My mother was taking me fishing with her and I was trying to figure out why anybody would build a fire around a telegram pole. I saw the sling up there, but you know, being 9 years old, you don’t know why a sling would be hanging down from a telegram pole. The fire had charred the pole.
So I asked my mother. My mother said, ‘You don’t need to know that.’
I came to Chicago when I was about 27 years old. Back then, my thinking was, ‘I’m a boy from Down South, I got to be a little better than the average guy.’ So I look in the newspaper and see how much these tool and die people made. I said, ‘Boy that’s a lot of money.’
At the time, I didn’t know the skill that went into that, so I went to trade school — American Institute of Engineering and Technology on Racine and Fullerton. I went there for two years. When I graduated, I went to work for FMC Link-Belt, where I took a four-year apprenticeship.
When I went back Down South, I was thinking about [the lynching place]. I asked my mom. I said, ‘Mom, was that a lynching?’ She said, ‘Yeah.’ She said, ‘C’ (she called me ‘C’), you were having trouble sleeping as it is.’ She said, ‘If I had a told you that …’
See, I used to have these reoccurring nightmares. [I would dream] of guys like the Ku Klux Klan coming and taking my brother out and I’m screaming and hollering and they dragging him out. This was way before Emmett Till, you know.