The longer I live the more I think about my maternal grandmother Geneva Green. Grandma was born in 1899, two generations after slavery. She was a sweet and soft-spoken person, who loved Jesus, her family and baseball, in that order.
I think about Grandma, because of her faith and calm spirit. Her favorite advice was to pray. I believe it was the prayers of my grandmother that got our family through tough times. It’s my grandma’s type of faith we’ll need as we brace ourselves for the cruel policies of this administration.
I am troubled in my spirit. It feels like we have been time warped back to the 50’s. A time of deep racial division and legal segregation. A familiar attitude pervades our society. A boldness and coldness that feels almost primal.
It’s important that we be reminded of the violent history of this nation. The violence America perpetuated against black people is something that this country does not like to talk about. We are told that was in the past; that there is no merit in trying to address it today, after all today’s white folk did not hang anybody, nor are black people being treated with such violence today.
Between the years 1877 and 1950, 3,959 black Americans were lynched, according to a study by the Equal Justice Initiative. Lynchings were as much psychological as they were brutal. They were used to traumatize black people throughout the country and were tolerated by state and federal officials.
Lynchings were not simply an act of racism, but were part of a social system that underlay racist ideology. It is the ideology used by white supremacists, who believe one must use force, violence and intimidation, to restore the racial hierarchy.
Race remains an undeniable factor in America’s policing policies. Victims of aggressive policing, who reached for a cell phone or a driver’s license, had a defective tail light, was playing with a toy gun or holding a toy gun in Walmart. All these individuals are dead… I submit that this aggressive policing has its roots in the same racial ideology of white supremacy, where force, violence and intimidation are necessary.
During the 1950’s and 1960’s many blacks were killed, their murders never solved and justice never prevailed. It was these martyrs that helped to shape the Civil Rights Movement.
One such martyr was James Earl Chaney, a young black man born in Meridian, MS. Chaney was a volunteer for Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) helping with voter registration. The summer of 1964 Chaney and two white volunteers, Michael Schwerner and Andrew Goodman were in Philadelphia, MS. investigating a church fire, when they were arrested on a traffic violation. Released after dark the three men were later murdered by the KKK; however, Chaney was first tortured and beat with a chain before he was shot. These brutal murders contributed to the passing of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voters Rights act of 1965.
Jimmie Lee Jackson was a 26-year-old deacon from Marion, Alabama. On February 18, 1965, Jackson participated in a non-violent march from the church to the jail where civil right workers were being held. His grandfather and mother were beaten and a State Trooper names James Fowler, shot and killed Jackson. At the time, a grand jury refused to indict Fowler. However, in 2007 Fowler was charged with first-degree murder of Jimmie Lee Jackson. He was found guilty of manslaughter and served 6 months. It was Jimmie Lee’s murder that sparked the Selma to Montgomery Marches.
Medgar Evers was a WWI Veteran and Civil Rights activist from Mississippi. Evers was very vocal in the murders of Emmitt Till and others, and became a target of the KKK. He was murdered in his driveway on June 12, 1963, by white supremacist, Bryon De La Beckwith. Although De La Beckwith was arrested for Evers’ murder, it took 30 years for a jury to convict him. Evers’ murder inspired many civil rights protests and brought more attention to the movement.
Emmett Till was a precocious 14-year-old kid visiting relatives in Mississippi the summer of 1955. It was purported that he whistled at a white woman and was kidnapped a few days later by the woman’s husband and brother-in-law, Roy Bryant and JW Milan. Till was brutally beaten, one eye gouged out, before the men shot him, tied a 70-lb cotton gin fan to his neck with barbed wire and dumped in the Tallahatchie River. It was Till’s murder, that is considered the catalyst for the start of the Civil Rights Movement. In February of this year, Carolyn Bryant recanted her story and admitted she had lied.
Jim Crow was an era in which southern whites, used methods sometimes legal, sometimes illegal, often deadly, and always immoral to maintain political and cultural dominance over blacks. Blacks were treated as sub-humans, to justify white supremacy.
Today we are witnessing schools and housing again become segregated; equal justice under the law diminished by an Attorney General interested in returning to harsher sentencing and more aggressive policing; an Education Secretary determined on destroying the free public education system; and a Housing and Urban Director that believes poverty is a “state of mind.”
My grandmother always said to pray, I now know prayer was just the start. After we pray, we must stand; stand for what is Right and Moral. We must go Forward Together, and not let anyone take us back.