Iola (Ida B. Wells)
Oil by Bettye W. Harwell
Lynching is the act of hanging an individual by a group.
I may not post this because this is my personal opinion. I want to write this for my own clarity. Lynching was never something I came into personal contact with. Living in the North with southern-raised relatives, children were protected from scary things. Still there were the conversations in the corners which made us fearful.
As I became an adult, I came to know about the practice of killing Black men for any reason. These were spontaneously organized by groups of men. No judge, no jury. We are familiar with the Ku Klux Clan formed after the Civil War. By wearing a covering of white, each person remained anonymous. Burning crosses, shooting into homes, culminating with hanging spectacles terrorized communities across the country.
Earlier, the Wild West set the template of justice. Those early hangings, viewed by women and children, were public events. The Law and Order of an earlier day was horrible but at least the hangings were equal opportunity. Lynching became racial and intimidation events. Officials were not acting in their authority but were part of the mob.
These unexpected and unsanctioned attacks deprived families of breadwinners, caused loss of property. They were used to ensure that others knew their ‘place.’ It also caused displacement: Blacks fled their homes looking for safe shelter far away from the dangers. (Finding dangers of another kind?)
Long before Emmit Till, part of my family left the south in small groups. A great uncle, age 20 and looking white, was being chased for talking to a white woman. The sister was separated from her brother. His former slave mother spent her last years without his comfort. The doctor husband remained in a nearby southern state. What resulted from this new normal?
Finally, the practice of lynching was curtailed by federal laws.
But now we have a new version of lawlessness. Our children are killing each other. In this form, it is also an equal opportunity event. Children of color, with guns, kill those closest to themselves. It is the lawlessness of the Wild West and no one is safe.
By my definition the New Lynchings are encouraged by our laws. It is an individual ‘being the MAN’ event. When there is no accountability for taking a life, our children have no expectation of living a long time. The model is ‘give me respect’, or, with my gun, you lose your life. How sad. Parents live in anguish when cast as polite, understanding people; cast into the TV limelight due to the killing of their child. What effort to face the public with the approved image only to curse the dark when alone.
And if you have other children, yours or your neighbors? What court? What jury? What comfort for their safety? What price for raising good kids? And if not so good, would that make a killing justified?
In the celebration of Black History Month, we look away from the bad past and the bad today. Will we remember that within some of our lifetimes, in Florida, Blacks had a curfew, could not walk on the sidewalk, and could be arrested without a ‘passport.’ Not slavery times, not too long ago. Will we see the signs on water fountains because some people buy into being separate means safety?
I used to say (facetiously) that you had lived a good life if your son did not ring the doorbell and shoot you. (That happened in our town.) Now you may have to live to bury your child. This is my opinion, but it does not change anything today. Perhaps tomorrow.
Painting: Ida Wells became a civil right leader after learning of the lynching of three Black men in TN.
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