top of page

Reflections on the Election 2020 Part 20

Attacks on Electoral System -Violence in America

It was my intention to commence addressing the impeachment of Mr. Trump but as I reflected on what I had written regarding violence it had related almost exclusively to the electoral process. A reader might get the impression that violence in America was confined to the electoral process and therefore it was a power struggle, so I want to address violence and all of its hideous manifestations. Really, to call what happened to people of African Ancestry violence does not even begin to comprehend how deeply pervasive, and indescribable cruelty was inflicted upon people of African Ancestry (P.A.A a way of expressing people who have African Ancestry which would be more appropriate than defining people by color. The reality is people who are defined as Black, members of the Black race are not all Black, there are various shades. And the people who define themselves as white are really not white but might be colorless or paleface but because white connotes a lot of expressions of good and superior perhaps the people we call white might want to define themselves as Anglo-Saxons, or Euro-Ethnics or Caucasians or Aryans whatever the racial background that connects them to a continent or country. It’s an interesting study, I don’t know if anyone has ever done the research on when, where, and why Americans and other countries started defining people with reference to pigmentation.)

As I went back and read some of the histories, I could hardly believe what I was reading. The indescribable cruelty, the creative genius for torture, and the mutilation escaped human description. It was not just violence that could only have emanated from the workbench of hell, but it was the delight, the joy that accompanied the violence. It was a family affair, a picnic, and after church happened when there were lynches. People packed lunches or snacks, they came by buses and trains of the lynches or whatever form of death was going to be means and part of the victim's body or what was attached to his body: clothing, rings, bracelets, wallet -- anything were given away or sold to eagerly waiting for persons some who had come miles with their children to enjoy the moment and to get souvenirs from the bodies if they were lucky they might get a finger or a whole hand, feet, toes, anything would be cherished. All the while as I read, I keep asking why. What had we done? (It is hard for me to write in the third person when speaking of our people P.A.A. (I feel woven, tied, attached, part of P.A.A) My mind kept searching for a reason for these demonic acts. Had we been at war, had we been violent towards them other than sporadic violence to protect ourselves the answer would be no.

Significantly, even after Emancipation Proclamation, the Civil war was over. There were no get-even vigilante groups. We didn’t go hunting down cruel slave masters all we wanted was to be free and to go about our lives in peace with opportunities to better ourselves and the nation. Where we were left alone, we did just that. I would like to quote extensively Without Sanctuary lynching photography in America in the Twin Palms publishers and the four authors James Allen, Hilton Als, Congressman John Lewis, and Leon F. Litwack. There are some books that I think should be in everyone’s home and especially P.A.A. and not just lay around to gather dust but be read and studied frequently. Without Sanctuary is one of the books another is Stolen Legacy still another How Europe Underdeveloped Africa. Dr. Walter Rodney, Destruction of Black Civilizations Chancellor Williams, The Stolen Lives produced by, the violence meted out to Blacks after Emancipation and during Reconstruction, including mob executions designed to underscore the limits of Black freedom, anticipated to a considerable degree the ways of murder and terrorism that would sweep across the South two decades later and become one of its unmistakable trademarks. What was strikingly new and different in the late 19th and early 20th centuries was the sadism and exhibitionism that characterized white violence. The ordinary modes of execution and punishment no longer satisfied the emotional appetite of the crowd. To kill the victim was not enough; the execution became a public theater, a participatory ritual of torture and death. A voyeuristic spectacle is prolonged if possible (once for seven hours), for the benefit of the crowd. Newspapers on a number of occasions announced in advance the time and place of a lynching, “Special excursions transported spectators to the scene. Employers sometimes released their workers to attend, parents sent notes to schools asking teachers to excuse their children for the event, and entire families attended. The children hoisted on their parent’s shoulders to miss none of the action and accompany festivities. Returning from one subjugation a nine-year-old white youth remained unsatisfied, “I have seen a man hang,” he told his mother; “now I wish I can see one burn.”

The story of lynching, then, is more than the simple fact of a Black man or woman hanging by the neck. It is the story of slow methodical sadistic often highly inventive forms of torture and mutilation. If executed by fire, it is the red-hot poker applied to the eyes and genitals and the stench of burning flesh, as the body slowly roasted over the flames and the blood sizzles in the heat. If executed by hanging it is the convulsive movement of the limbs. Whether by fire or rope, it is the dismemberment and distribution of several bodily parts as favors and souvenirs to participants and the crowds: teeth, ears, toes, fingers, nails, kneecaps, bits of charred skin, and bones. Such human trophies might reappear as watch fobs displayed conspicuously for public viewing…

Some thirty years after Emancipation, between 1890 and 1920, in response to perceptions of a New Negro born in freedom, undisciplined by slavery, and unschooled in proper racial etiquette and in response to growing doubts that this new generation can be trusted to stay in its place without legal and extra-legal force, the white South denied Blacks a political voice, imposed rigid patterns of racial segregation (Jim Crow), sustained an economic system -- sharecropping and tenantry – that left little ambition or hope, refused Blacks equal educational resources, and disseminated racial charcutiers and scientific theories that reinforced and comforted whites in their racist beliefs and practices…

It began convenient for some whites and a portion of the press to blame lynching on lower-class whites although the “best people” like other whites took for granted the inferiority of Blacks, there were said to be more paternalistic and less likely to carry their views to a violent conclusion. “Ravening mobs are not composed of gentlemen,” affirmed Atlanta’s leading newspaper. But the evidence suggested otherwise. Perhaps “rednecks” “crackers” and “peckerwoods” played a more public role in lynchings, but they often did so with the approval and at times the active and zealous participation of upper and middle-class whites. Exceptions existed among all classes, but invariably “gentlemen” and “ladies”, especially the newer generation of whites who had grown up after the Civil war, were no more sympathetic to Black people and their aspirations than lower-class whites. If they sometimes displayed a greater sympathy, they felt less of a threat to their exalted positions in Southern society.

Drawn from all classes in Southern white society from the “rednecks” to the “best people” lynchers came together in an impressive show of racial and community solidarity. Neither crazed thieves nor the dregs of white society, the bulk of the lynchers tended to be ordinary and respectable people, few of whom had any difficulty justifying their atrocities in the name of maintaining the social and racial order the purity of the Anglo-Saxon. The mobs who meted out “summary justice” were pronounced by one Georgian as “composed of our best citizens who are foremost in all works public and private good.” In the same spirit, a meridian, Mississippi newspaper concluded, “the men who do the lynchings…. are not men who flaunt the laws but men who sincerely believe they have the best interest of their fellow men and women at heart.”

If lynching were calculated to send a forceful message to the Black community and underscore its vulnerability, whites succeeded. But at the same time, it exposed Black men and women -- in ways, they would never forget—to the moral character of the white community. The impression conveyed was not so much the racial superiority of whites as their enormous capacity for savagery and cowardness in the way they inflicted their terror as crowds and mobs rarely as individuals.

“The lynch mob came”, a Mississippi woman remembered. “I ain’t ever heard of no one white man going to get a Negro. They are the most cowardly people I’ve ever heard of.”

They got the judges

They got the lawyers

They got the jury-roll call

They got the throw-away

They got the law

They don’t blame white folks

They got the sheriff,

They got the deputies

They don’t come by twos they got the shotgun.

To be continued...

Related Posts

See All

Reflections on the Election 2020 Part 1

Unless God Intervenes Leaving my television on while watching one of my old sitcoms, as they used to call them, I was awakened around 5:30 a.m. Sunday, November 1st, to the Jeffersons “Movin’ on up”,

Reflections on Election 2020 Part 2

God Intervenes Tuesday, November 3rd, 2020 the day of the election had arrived. At 5 a.m. I headed to Brooklyn to cast my ballot. It was a towering challenge for me to return to Brooklyn to vote. I di

Reflections on Election 2020 Part 3

Remembering Jesse Jackson and Arthur Eve Campaigns My mind raced back to the Reverend Jesse Jackson campaign in 1983 and 1984. In September 1983 Rev. Jackson asked Assemblyman Al Vann and me to organi


bottom of page