The lynch­ing me­mo­rial is a stark re­minder of man’s in­hu­man­ity to man

South Florida Times - - OPINION - Broward Palm Beach New Times Harper’s HANG­ING MON­U­MENTS: Names of blacks who were lynched in 77 years be­tween 1877 and 1950 are in­scribed on 800 six-foot tall pil­lars of Lynch­ing Me­mo­rial in Mont­gomery, Alabama.

Fred Rochelle was only 16 when a mob burned him alive on May 29, 1901 in Barstow, Polk County, after he was falsely ac­cused of the rape and mur­der of a white woman. They chained him to a bar­rel, doused him in kerosene and set him on fire. Reuben Stacy was 37 when he was hanged from a tree on Old Davie Road in Broward County in July of 1935. He was ac­cused of at­tempt­ing to as­sault a white woman after knock­ing on her door and ask­ing for wa­ter.

and re­ported that Florid­i­ans lynched 331 blacks, the high­est rate per capita of any state, 0.594. Of the top 25 coun­ties across the South for lynch­ing, six took place here: Orange (34), Mar­ion (30), Alachua (19), Polk (19), Columbia (17) and Tay­lor (17).

The sta­tis­tics are drawn from the re­search of the Equal Jus­tice Ini­tia­tive (EJI), founded and headed by at­tor­ney Bryan Steven­son, that cul­mi­nated in the April 26 open­ing of the “Na­tional Me­mo­rial for Peace and Jus­tice” and the “Legacy Mu­seum: From Enslave­ment to Mass In­car­cer­a­tion.”

The dual me­mo­rial com­mem­o­rates the es­ti­mated 4,400 blacks who were lynched in the 77 years be­tween 1877 and 1950, in­clud­ing at least two dozen women. The names, where avail­able, are in­scribed on 800 six-foot-tall pil­lars, one for each county where lynch­ing took place, the dates and lo­ca­tions.

Steven­son, al­ready dis­tin­guished for his work in civil rights, more re­cently widened his in­ter­est to the ab­sence of memo­ri­als to lynch­ing and slav­ery. He de­cided to cre­ate the me­mo­rial in Mont­gomery, Alabama, where the EJI is based, tak­ing a cue from the Apartheid Mu­seum in South Africa and the Holo­caust Me­mo­rial in Ger­many.

“We don’t have many places in Amer­ica where we have urged peo­ple to look at the his­tory of ra­cial in­equal­ity, to look at the his­tory of slav­ery, of lynch­ing, of seg­re­ga­tion,” Steven­son told the As­so­ci­ated Press. “We’ve got 59 mark­ers and mon­u­ments to the Con­fed­er­acy in Mont­gomery.”

For that mat­ter, even in the na­tion’s cap­i­tal, stat­ues of Con­fed­er­ates out­num­ber those of blacks 11:4, ac­cord­ing to mag­a­zine.

Steven­son be­lieves that slav­ery did not end with abo­li­tion on Dec. 6, 1865, that be­lief in white supremacy sim­ply “evolved.” Even very re­cent events point in that di­rec­tion, in ad­di­tion to the on­go­ing mass in­car­cer­a­tion of blacks and po­lice killings. • Mis­sis­sippi and Alabama – site of the me­mo­rial - with 40 per­cent and 25 per­cent black pop­u­la­tions, re­spec­tively, cel­e­brated “Con­fed­er­ate Me­mo­rial Day” around the time the lynch­ing me­mo­rial was opened. • Sara­sota high school stu­dent Noah Crow­ley, 18, asked a fel­low stu­dent to go with him to the prom by hold­ing up a sign that read, “If I was black, I’d be pick­ing cot­ton, but I’m white so I’m pick­ing u 4 prom?” • An eighth-grade Amer­i­can his­tory class at a Great Hearts char­ter school in Texas was given an as­sign­ment ti­tled “The Life of Slaves: A Bal­anced View.” The work­sheet asked stu­dents to list the pos­i­tive and neg­a­tive as­pects of slav­ery. • Rashon Nel­son and Donte Robin­son were hand­cuffed and ar­rested at a Philadel­phia Star­bucks. Po­lice were called be­cause they were not or­der­ing and not leav­ing; they were in fact wait­ing for a third per­son for a busi­ness meet­ing. • Po­lice wres­tled Chike­sia Cle­mons, a black woman, to the ground, leav­ing her top­less, at a Waf­fle House in Sar­a­land, Ala. She was merely ob­ject­ing to pay­ing 50 cents to use plas­tic uten­sils. • Tshyrad Oates and an­other black man were asked to leave an LA Fit­ness gym in New Jersey, where he is a long-time mem­ber. • A Grand­view golf club in Philadel­phia called po­lice on five black women mem­bers claim­ing they were play­ing too slowly and re­fused re­quests to leave. • For­mer NFL player Des­mond Mar­row was vi­o­lently ar­rested by po­lice in Henry County, Ge­or­gia. One of the three of­fi­cers choked him into un­con­scious­ness and he suf­fered a con­cus­sion; they mis­took his cell­phone for a gun. • Jacinda Mitchell was locked out of a Waf­fle House in Pin­son, Ala., while white pa­trons were din­ing.

Steven­son is hop­ing his me­mo­rial will help dis­pel “the idea that black peo­ple are not the same as white peo­ple, they aren’t fully hu­man or evolved and are pre­sumed dan­ger­ous and guilty.”

“That,” he says, “is why Amer­i­can so­ci­ety today is so non-re­spon­sive to shoot­ings of un­armed black peo­ple, to dis­pro­por­tion­ate ex­pul­sion rates of black kids, to putting hand­cuffs on four-and five-year-old black girls… We’ve been ac­cul­tur­ated to not valu­ing the vic­tim­iza­tion of black peo­ple.”

The stark images in the lynch­ing me­mo­rial can, of course, be seen as a re­minder to white Amer­ica:“This is your truth. Deal with it.” Steven­son told The New York Times, “I’m not in­ter­ested in talk­ing about Amer­ica’s his­tory be­cause I want to pun­ish Amer­ica. I want to lib­er­ate Amer­ica.”

That may be so but 399 years after slav­ery be­gan and 153 years after “eman­ci­pa­tion,” “lib­er­a­tion” is a long time a-com­ing.

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