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Remembering the Lynching Victims: Lawyer Plans Memorials to Those Killed in Southern Violence Ritual

The lynching of Rubin Stacy. Onlookers, including four young girls.  July 19, 1935, Fort Lauderdale, Florida.

The lynching of Rubin Stacy. Onlookers, including four young girls. July 19, 1935, Fort Lauderdale, Florida.

The Confederate flag is a symbol of white privilege and segregation, the oppression of Black people, and the fight by Southern states to preserve slavery. But the flag also represents the peculiarly American brand of terrorism known as lynching.

While the South is strewn with Confederate flags and memorials that attempt to glorify a heritage of white supremacy and domestic terrorism, one civil rights lawyer wants to place memorials to lynching throughout the South. This is a glorious effort to reclaim the narrative of Southern history from the racists, and to set the record straight on the legacy of violence in the South. If the nation has any hope of coming to terms with this shameful past, it must acknowledge that it actually took place.

The Los Angeles Times reported that Bryan Stevenson, 55, a professor at NYU Law School and the head of the nonprofit organization the Equal Justice Initiative, plans to erect memorial markers where Black men, women and children were lynched. Sometimes people were hanged from telephone poles or from trees, for allegedly whistling at a white woman or sassing a white man, or demanding their rights, or for doing absolutely nothing at all.

The bronze markers will form a collective memorial, each marking the spot where the person was lynched.

In February 2015, EJI issued a report on lynching called “Lynching in America: Confronting the Legacy of Racial Terror,” in which the organization found that 3,959 people were lynched in the U.S. between 1877 and 1950—700 more than was previously known.

Georgia, Mississippi, Louisiana, Arkansas and Texas claimed the highest number of lynchings, while Florida, Mississippi, Arkansas and Louisiana had the highest rates of lynchings.

“Lynching profoundly impacted race relations in America and shaped the geographic, political, social, and economic conditions of African Americans in ways that are still evident today,” the report stated. “Terror lynchings fueled the mass migration of millions of black people from the South into urban ghettos in the North and West during the first half of the twentieth century. Lynching created a fearful environment where racial subordination and segregation was maintained with limited resistance for decades. Most critically, lynching reinforced a legacy of racial inequality that has never been adequately addressed in America.”

The report also concludes that the administration of criminal justice is inextricably linked to the history of lynching, a fact which compromises the fairness and integrity of the justice system. In making the case, the report explains that the imposition of the death penalty brought about a decline in the number of lynchings, representing a replacement of one form of state sanctioned violence with another, under the trappings and legitimacy of a judicial system. It is worth noting that 80 percent of lynchings took place in the Southern states, just as 80 percent of the executions over the past four decades have taken place in the former Confederacy.

Lynchings were acts of violence designed to maintain white dominance over Black people. Moreover, they were white Christian ritualistic killings, symbolic acts of violence not unlike the acts of terror that Americans would associate with groups such as ISIS or Al Qaeda. As the “other,” Black people served as the scapegoats whose deaths helped preserve the purity and hegemony of the white race. The practice of lynching reflects the power of the slave patrol and the lynch mob, the white judge and the all-white jury— the authority of white men to inflict collective punishment against Black people at will, sanctioned by the law. The psychic toll inflicted upon Black community has been great in terms of trauma caused by lynching.

Further, lynchings provided a form of public entertainment. Railroads ran excursions and sold tickets, and families had picnics to watch these spectacles. As Ida B. Wells said, the “nineteenth century lynching mob cuts off ears, toes, and fingers, strips off flesh, and distributes portions of the body as souvenirs among the crowd. If the leaders of the mob are so minded, coal-oil is poured over the body and the victim is then roasted to death.”

Without uttering the word, Billie Holiday sang about lynching in Abel Meeropol’s song “Strange Fruit,” capturing the inhumanity of racism.

Southern trees bear a strange fruit,
Blood on the leaves and blood at the root,
Black body swinging in the Southern breeze,
Strange fruit hanging from the poplar trees.

Pastoral scene of the gallant South,
The bulging eyes and the twisted mouth,
Scent of magnolia sweet and fresh,
And the sudden smell of burning flesh!

Here is a fruit for the crows to pluck,
For the rain to gather, for the wind to suck,
For the sun to rot, for a tree to drop,
Here is a strange and bitter crop.

Meanwhile, at a time when the Confederate flag, Black church massacres and Black church burnings are coming into full view—and Black bodies are taken from us through police and vigilante violence—the timing of this lynching memorial project could not be better.

What people are saying

13 thoughts on “Remembering the Lynching Victims: Lawyer Plans Memorials to Those Killed in Southern Violence Ritual

  1. "In February 2015, EJI issued a report on lynching called “Lynching in America: Confronting the Legacy of Racial Terror,” in which the organization found that 3,959 people were lynched in the U.S. between 1877 and 1950—700 more than was previously known."

    According to the FBI, Supplementary Homicide Reports, 1976-2005 there were:

    182,506 white on white homicides between 1976 and 2005.
    175,255 black on black homicides between 1976 and 2005.
    29,437 black on white homicides between 1976 and 2005.
    11,262 white on black homicides between 1976 and 2005.

    Lynchings were an act of terrorism – often directed towards persons arrested for acts of crime – but they were a drop in the bucket compared to the number of people killed in just the last 40 years.

    * the figures for white homicide victims and offenders includes Hispanics.

  2. Equating homicide with lynching is nothing but white supremacist double speak. We are talking about the actions of a mob, not individuals…

  3. Terry Moore says:

    Does this some how make you feel better about the 3,959 men, women, and CHILDREN that were lynched? Whites are forever trying to minimize the evil that they have committed against Blacks. Shame!

  4. Clark Sullivan There were 82,013 homicides involving multiple offenders between 1980 and 2008. Over 44,000 of those multiple offender homicides were committed by blacks.

    Getting killed by a gang leaves a person just as dead as if they were killed by a mob.

    Source:
    Homicide Trends in the United States, 1980-2008.

    TABLE 7
    Homicide type, by race, 1980–2008.

    TABLE 12
    Homicides involving single or multiple victims or offenders, 1980–2008.

  5. Terry Moore There have also been acts of evil committed by blacks against whites like the Christopher Newsom and Channon Christian homicides.

    "The details of the crime as later revealed by court testimony were horrific: Christopher Newsom was repeatedly sodomized with a foreign object; he was bound, gagged and blindfolded; he was dragged outside and shot in the back of his head, neck and back; and his body was set on fire. Channon Christian was tortured for several hours, beaten about the head, and raped; afterwards, bleach was poured over her body and down her throat, then she was covered with several plastic garbage bags, dumped in a disposal bin, and left to suffocate."

  6. Kimo Carter says:

    So what's your point Florel? where are the stats on white on white crime, what about how white kids go to school, kill there classmates, teachers, parents and themselves. what about the white serial killers that eat people. hate crimes are done by white people, why is it the most hated group of people in the world are white americans? your history is filled with rape and murder and torture. white people have a taste for blood that will never be quenched. they bring there kids to lynchings as if its a party. please white people….shut the fuck up.

  7. Kimo Carter says:

    Florel Saunders what's your stupid ass point?

  8. My point is that white people who were killed for just being in the 'wrong area' or the 'wrong place at the wrong time' are just as dead as those who were lynched and their deaths are far more numerous.

  9. The song Strange Fruit was written after the lynching of Thomas Shipp and Abram Smith.

    They were lynched after killing a white man named Claude Deeter.

    That type of lynching was much more common than "allegedly whistling at a white woman or sassing a white man, or demanding their rights, or for doing absolutely nothing at all."

    The Lynch Mob: A Personal Tale.

    " Cameron accepted a ride home that night in a 1926 Ford Roadster from his 18-year-old classmate, Tom Shipp. Another teen, 19-year-old Abram Smith, also was in the car.

    By the end of the next night, Shipp and Smith would be dead — beaten and then lynched by an angry mob. But Cameron escaped.

    The three teenagers, all of whom were black, drove along the river. At some point, they came across a car and a white man named Claude Deeter, as well as an 18-year-old white woman named Mary Ball. Cameron said one of the other teenagers ordered him to rob the couple at gunpoint.

    "I opened the door and I said, 'Stick them up,' and this white fellow gets out of the car, and he didn't recognize me because I had my hat pulled down," he recalled. "And I noticed him just like that. He was my friend, a real nice white fellow. I was his shoeshine boy.

    "And his girlfriend got out of the car. Her face was so pale and lovely and frightened, and that scared me. So I took the gun, give it to one of my confederates. I said, 'Here, I'm not going to have anything to do with you guys.'

    "And I left that scene of the crime. I had gone about two or three blocks when I heard some shots ring out — bang, bang, bang. Well, I was foolish for being out there, but I sure in hell wasn't going to go back to see who was shooting who." ".

  10. THE PEOPLE IN THE PICS WE ARE LOOKING FOR THEIR KIDS TODAY!

  11. Terry Moore says:

    Have you heard of James Byrd, Emmit Till, and the THOUSANDS of Blacks that have died horrific deaths at the hands of whites! I don't know why you all even try to play the comparison game! No one and I mean no one has done more evil to their fellow humans then white people. If I had a history as ugly as yours I would not open my mouth against anyone, but we see that's not going to happen! White deaths are far more numerous, boy put down that meth pipe!

  12. People are still bringing up Emmit Till who died in the 1950s.

    Tens of thousands of white people have been killed by blacks since that time and many of the deaths were brutal.

    We can go back to May of this year when the Savopoulos family (including a 10 year old boy) were stabbed and beaten to death with a baseball bat by a black guy named Daron Wint.

    29,437 black on white homicides between 1976 and 2005.
    11,262 white on black homicides between 1976 and 2005.

  13. Paul Rivas says:

    Actually the statistics say that you are wrong- being prosperous, demanding rights or being accused of a crime against whites was enough and the actual criminal being killed was a very small percentage. Since you are tryin to justify extrajudicial homicide you need to address the horrific torture and mutilation of Black lynching victims- this was hatred, terrorism, and social control not vigilantism.

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