History vs History
May 1, 2018 | View PDF
The origins of the word "lynch" probably originated during our revolution. The verb comes from the phrase "Lynch Law", a term for punishing someone without benefit of a trial. Charles Lynch, an American, is given credit for coining the phrase. He lived in Virginia in the 1780s and was known to have used the term. In 1782, Charles Lynch wrote that his assistant had administered "Lynch's law" to Tories "for Dealing with Negroes."
Lynch was a Virginia planter and American Revolutionary who headed a county court in Virginia which incarcerated Loyalist supporters of the British for up to one year during the war. While he lacked proper jurisdiction, he claimed this right by arguing wartime necessity. Subsequently, he prevailed upon his political friends to pass a law that shielded him from criminal prosecution. They did. This action by the Congress created a heated issue with Britain and it was in connection with this that the term "Lynch law", meaning the assumption of extrajudicial authority, came into common usage. Lynch was not accused of racial bias. He acquitted blacks accused of murder on three separate occasions. He was accused, however, of ethnic prejudice in his abuse of Welch miners.
Last weekend marked a solemn occasion as Bryan Stevenson's Equal Justice Initiative NPO opened the Legacy Museum and the National Memorial for Peace and Justice here in the Capitol City of Montgomery, Alabama.While many celebrities like Usher, Stevie
Wonder, the Dave Matthews Band, to name a few, entertained the crowds with a river concert, the opening ceremony was a moving tribute to those 4,000 plus blacks who were wrongly killed during a period from 1870 to 1950 by all manner of lynchings, predominately in the South but also across the United States to include Colorado, Kansas, Illinois, Indiana, Ohio to name a few.
800 heavy metal blocks identified by county and state hung from the ceiling and slabbed the six acre grounds listing the name (when known) and date of the lynching. Graphic statues portrayed the plight of the poor during post war reconstruction all the way to the civil rights movement.
The constant waterfall provides a tranquil respite from the many brutal references to the degradation and torture suffered by those listed in the hallowed halls.
Stevenson's inspiration came from his travels to places like the Holocaust Memorial near the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin where he saw brass plates inscribed with names of those forcibly taken to concentration camps. Another experience in Johannesburg, South Africa forced him to face the brutality of apartheid. The Apartheid Museum gave him the motivation to act. America had left a void in recognition of the horrors wrongly perpetrated on blacks that occurred after the Civil war up to the genesis of the Civil Rights movement. Now is the time to fill that void.
As Bryan explains, “A story of survival, determination, resiliency, and hope emerges from the difficulty of our past. This story of endurance and strength is also important for us to understand if we are to eliminate racial bias in the 21st century.”
The Legacy Museum, about a mile away pays fitting tribute to the story and the efforts to find peace and justice. It is well worth the visit. The museum property location once held slaves. No photography is allowed. A key message found in the museum explains why history is so important. “We will remember. With hope, because hopelessness is the enemy of justice. With courage, because peace requires bravery. With persistence, because justice is a constant struggle. With faith, because we shall overcome."
The EJI spent over five years collecting data to support and document every instance of lynching. All these resources are available for review and inspection through a four screen digital terminal featuring an interactive map and descriptions of select lynchings.
An "In Remembrance" section has a collection of 300 jars filled with dirt from the locations where lynchings occurred with an inscription giving a synopsis of the event. Several artistic renderings may be found throughout the museum including one by Sanford Biggers called, "BAM".
The Alabama Gazette reviewed Stevenson's book, Just Mercy, a few years ago, which delves into the true stories of victims of a flawed justice system not only in Alabama, but across the nation, with additional focus on the juvenile incarceration and the mentally challenged.
It should be noted that lynchings occurred across racial lines. According to research released by Tuskegee University, from 1882 to 1968, 4,742 documented
lynchings occurred. Of that number, 3,445 were black and 1,297 were white.
Another interesting statistic, based on 2015 FBI information, shows blacks accounted for about half of the
approximately 12,000 homicides in 2015. However, blacks represent only about 13.3% of the population. Further, of that roughly 6,000 homicides, 2,380 were black on black crime, with Chicago being considered one of the top cities of black on black murder. Surprisingly, while most of the US population believes crime is rampant, statistically, the nation has seen a 12% decrease in violent crime since 2007.
Regardless of any statistics, this part of our history is important to not only acknowledge wrongs, but find healing, forgiveness, and positive action for the future of everyone's peace and posterity.
Visit the Museum...
Pray that we never allow
history to repeat itself in this
great nation, where we all have struggled.
How do we bring
UNITY from our
experiences of the past?