Amaud Arbery was a very handsome, outgoing, active young African American and by all accounts he had an exciting and hopeful future awaiting him. But, his life was cut short by a white racist, father and son, vigilantes team. They chased him down and shot him dead in Brunswick, Georgia (2-23-20). Many Americans and people around the world responded to the incident with horror, shock and even disbelief. Under Pres. Barak H. Obama’s US Justice Department, AG Eric Holder would have had agents looking into the matter, during the first month of inaction. Even Pres. George W. Bush would not have turned a blind eye to such an obvious lynching. But with Trump’s demoralizing impact on the Department of Justice, black people have lost the only government watchdog for civil rights. African Americans should brace themselves for a return to how J. Edgar Hoover use of the FBI to attack black activists.
I will not try to recreate the situation or describe the circumstances surrounding Mr. Arbery murder (news videos do that), I simply want to acquaint readers with a little of Georgia’s history regarding lynching. For skeptics, interns of those who believe, first that lynching is a thing of the past, and secondly even back them it was over blown, I offer several sources to allay their concerns regarding the history of which I speak. First, Ralph Ginzburg’s book One Hundred Years of Lynching presents an account of thousands of lynchings from newspaper reports of such murders in real time. Ginzburg explores the lynching phenomenon, as it stretched across the US, and this epidemic did not occur in other civilized nations. I call this period the “Dark Age” angry white men mob madness era. Although lynching began in the 1880s and lasted until 1950, however, lynching did not end in 1950, it simply evolved.
For those who are unable to muster the courage to read page after page describing the monstrous time when lynching was like a tailgate party, following a college or NFL football game in America, James Allen offers a pictorial exposé. James Allen’s book Without Sanctuary: Lynching Photography in America is my second source. It exhibits and gives concreteness to many of the lynching scenes, I speak about, that took place in America are described by Ginzburg. Manyoftheselynchingphotographsweremadeintopostcards,whichvendorssoldtolynchingparticipants and others in attendance as souvenirs. Seeing these horrific images as cherished mementos spawned a postcard industry, which supplied pictures of the invidious cruelty of hanging, burning, roasting and mutilating a black human being. Photographers peddled their atrocious pictures to the general public long after the “picnic” was over.
Photographs of these brutal murders are physical evidence of the terrorism, brutality and viciousness that federal, state and local government inspired, sanctioned, condoned and promoted, “as the only means to protect ‘white woman’ from black men.” James Allen tells this shocking pictorial story in his book “Without Sanctuary: Lynching Photography in America.” Allen’s exhibit presents over one hundred such images of original pictures that remind the world that Pres. Woodrow Wilson led supposedly enlightened white American to commit such gruesome blood lust rituals and murders, as entertainment, for almost one hundred years in America.
My last source for skeptics is Jacqueline Battalora’s thesis Birth of a White Nation: The Invention of White People. She also has a video lecture (on u-tube) detailing the process that created the concept of white American, as we know today. She explains how the concept of whiteness and white privilege began and development. Woodrow Wilson entrenched white supremacy as a function of government, after his election in 1912. Woodrow Wilson biographers, Ray S. Baker and William E. Dodd (eds.) in The Public Papers of Woodrow Wilson, described him as follows, “Wilson never presented his racist face to the world, but Pres. Woodrow Wilson’s first act, after his election in 1912, was to begin segregating the US federal government.” Wilson justified his actions this way, “Self- preservation [forced whites] to rid themselves, by fair means or foul, of the intolerable burden of governments sustained by the votes of ignorant Negroes.”
The adage, as the President leads, the nation follows, truly exemplifies Woodrow Wilson’s leadership of America, the same as Donald Trump today. Wilson’s election marks the point at which the US government became the instrument of the darkest and racist force in America. Wilson implemented his racist views through government policies and edits. He mandated segregation throughout the federal government. Wilson pushed thousands of black workersofffederaljobs,particularlythoseintheUSpostalservice. Someformerslaveshadheldtheirpositionssince the contraband period (1865 to 1880s), following Civil War (1860-1865). Wilson spread segregation throughout the federal government, denying black Americans access to America’s socioeconomic and political benefits based solely on skin color.
The topic of lynching is relevant to Amaud Arbery’s murder because Georgia led America in overall lynchings for31years(1900-1931)with302knownlynchings. Duringthisperiod,“lynchmobsorlynchlaw”becamethelegal system for anyone whose death, whether black or white, served the purposes of white supremacy. According to the Tuskegee Institute, Florida led the nation in lynchings per capita from 1900-1930, when Georgia took the lead there too. Moreover, a five-year study published by the Equal Justice Initiative (EJI), Montgomery, Alabama (2015) found over 4,075 black men, women, and children were lynched in the twelve southern states over that period.
These hate-filled years were about demonstrating how virulent, humiliating, and painful white people could make dying for a black person. Striped of all legal protection, by the US Supreme Court with Plessy v. Ferguson—separate but equal—black men’s lives hung on the whim of any white man or group that was imbued with blood lust. For whatever reason or for no reason, if whites desired the life of a black man, his life was forfeited. If he fought back, he was charged with murder, by law a black man could not resist, in any way, what a white person wanted.
Now I offer a couple of examples of the lynch mob mindset that still dominate Georgia, and Amaud Arbery is exhibit A today. The scourge of lynching was well underway in 1899 when Sam Hose, (c. 1875/4-23-1899), an African American farm laborer, requested time off to visit his sick mother. Alfred Cranford, his white boss, pointed his gun at Hose and threatened to shoot him if he did not get back to work. Believing Cranford was going to shot him, Hose in fear for his life, and while chopping wood, swung the ax in his defense, killing Cranford.
After his capture, a mob took Hose out of the hands of law enforcement, the following Sunday morning (4-23- 1899). Hose was brought to the Newman, Georgia town square, where over two thousand excited onlookers awaited. They had been ferried by train from Atlanta to celebrate the lynching, which had been announced in advance in Atlanta’s newspapers. Amidst vendors selling whiskey, food and souvenirs before, during and after the big attraction—Hose’s murder—the crowd marched him to the Cranford home.
There Hose was stripped bare. His ears, fingers, and genitals were cut off, while the crowd cheered wilily. While still alive, mobsters skinned his face and burned him on a pyre. Souvenir hunters fought over his organs, bones and other remaining body parts.
Georgia did not reserve lynching exclusively for black men. Three events that occurred in1915, although widely dispersed, were closely related in more than their temporal connection. Release of the film The Birth of a Nation (1914), the reorganization of the Ku Klux Klan (1915) with a new emphasis on violence against immigrants, Jews, and Catholics, and the lynching of Leo Frank (1915) in Georgia, proved to be preludes to one of the darkest times for justice in America for such groups. During the early to mid-1900s, black writers characterized the period — “Dark Age” angry white men mob madness”—in America, as the most violent and murderous times for slavery’s descendants in American. Those events named above reflected the open disregard for legal authority, justice, and life, if one was notwhite. Pres.Woodrow Wilson established the consensus that America was a nation for only white people. Pushing white supremacy, as the philosophy and psychology of the federal government and America, murdering black men became entertainment for whites on all levels of society
Lynching, as I said, was a spectator sport for white people. Huge crowds with a craving for blood gathered to watch while feeding their appetite for black men’s blood. This lustful craving grew wildly among whites, like the coronavirus pandemic. Thousands of white men, women, and children flocked to participate or simply witness such grotesquely, and loathsome events.
Leo Frank, a factory superintendent, was convicted of murdering 13-year-old, Mary Phagan in Atlanta, Georgia (1913). Leo’s trial, conviction and lynching (1915) attracted national and international attention. While in Milledgeville prison farm, after receiving a pardon from the governor, a group of “prominent citizens of Marietta, Georgia,” appeared at the prison gate and identified themselves as the Knights of Mary Phagan.
Frank was given over to them and driven back to Marietta, where he was lynched the next morning. Many Georgians denounced Leo Frank and Jews in general for “using their money to undermine justice in Georgia.” His murder was the social, political, and racial focus around the world regarding anti-Semitism. Needless to say, evidence emerged later that proved Frank’ was innocence!!! (The betrayal of the Negro: From Rutherford B. Hayes to Woodrow Wilson. Logan, R.W. New York: Macmillan (1965).
The years from 1889 to 1923, saw 50 to 100 lynchings each year. Death by lynch mobs no longer occurred in the dead of night in some dark and deathly swamp; they were no longer anomalies or unusual shocking events. Spectacle lynchings became terror parties and big business for some whites.
During lynching’s heyday (1889-1918), 3,224 individuals were lynched; 2,522 or 78 percent were black. One account (1882-1968), showed approximately 4,742 individuals lynched; 3,445 or 73 percent were black. These statistics highlight the variance in lynching statistics. Typically, the victims died at the hands of white vigilantes led by civic leaders frequently in front of thousands of spectators (Lynching in the new South: Georgia and Virginia, 1880-1930: W. F. Brundage, 1993, University of Illinois Urbana Press).
The first American president to take a visible stand against lynching was Harry S. Truman in 1946. Shocked by a lynching in Moore’s Ford (Monroe, Georgia), in which four black people—one a WWII veteran and hero, George Dorsey, his pregnant wife, May Murray, a friend Robert Malcolm and his wife, Dorothy—were brought by the sheriff to a waiting mob, where the mob shot them dozens of times and then cut the baby out of the mother.
Pres. Truman launched a campaign to guarantee civil rights for blacks, including a push for federal anti-lynching laws, but the US Congress refused to put a stop to the heinous act of lynching. Although unsuccessful, for the first time since Abraham Lincoln, there was a President in the White House that spoke out against the injustice and terror black Americans endured.
Fast forward to “The 400th”, recently, historic legislation (2/26/20), which will make lynching a federal hate crime, passed the House Representatives by near-unanimous consent. Only three Republicans voted against the measure: GOP members Ted Yoho of Florida, Louie Gohmert of Texas, Thomas Massie of Kentucky and the lone Independent, Justin Amash of Michigan—who switched from Republican to Independent after his support for impeaching President Donald Trump. Sixteen members did not vote.
The proposal, however, received broad bipartisan support and passed 410-4. Republicans accused Democrats of “legislative overreach” and federal government encroaching on states’ rights. The legislation, if enacted, would add lynching to the list of current criminal civil rights violations. There is no word whether Mitch McConnell’s Republican senate will even take up the Legislation. Lynching is another case where black people dying needlessly, and Republicans do not give a damn. (The article is an excerpt from “The 400th” (1619-2020) From Slavery to Hip Hop. It is scheduled for release in June).
This article originally appeared in The Tri-State Defender in Memphis, Tennessee.