Thanks to Illinois Rep. Bobby Rush for the Emmett Till Antilynching Act, approved last week in the House by a vote of 410-4. Let us pray for the president’s signature to make this bill law. I thought I would take this opportunity to share with you how women were also lynched.
Advocates say there have been more than 200 attempts to pass the legislation in the past, and the latest effort has been in the works for nearly two years.
“This act of American terrorism has to be repudiated,” Rush, who sponsored the legislation nearly two years ago, told NPR. “Now it’s being repudiated. It’s never too late to repudiate evil and this lynching is an American evil.”
The National Memorial for Peace and Justice in Montgomery, Alabama, has information on its website which tells of the museum’s which overlooks the Montgomery the state capital. It uses sculpture, art and design to give visitors a sense of the terror of lynching as they walk through a memorial square with 800 six-foot steel columns that symbolize the victims. The names of thousands of victims are engraved on columns — one for each county in the United States where a lynching took place. In Alabama alone, a reported total of 275 lynchings took place between 1871 and 1920.
Evelyn M. Simien sought to tell the stories of these women and why they have been left out. Between 1880 and 1930, close to 200 women were murdered by lynch mobs in the American South, according to historian Crystal Feimster. Who knew this troubling history?
In a recent report, Lynching in America, researchers documented 4,075 lynchings of African-Americans that were committed by southern whites in Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas and Virginia between 1877 and 1950.
Lynching differed from ordinary murder or assault. It was celebrated by members of the Ku Klux Klan as a spectacular event and drew large crowds of people who tortured victims, burned them alive and dismembered them. Lynching was a form of domestic terrorism that inflicted harm onto individuals and upon an entire race of people, with the purpose of instilling fear.
The conventional approach to teaching the history of Jim Crow and lynching has focused almost exclusively on the Black male victim. However, such an approach often simplifies and distorts a much more complex history.
Not all victims were African-American men, and although allegations of African-American men raping white women were common, such allegations were not the leading motive for the lynching. We know from the pioneering work of anti-lynching crusader Ida B. Wells-Barnett that African-American men, women and children were lynched for a range of alleged crimes and social infractions.
The book “Trouble in Mind,” by Pulitzer Prize-winning historian Leon Litwack, provides a detailed account of the many accusations of petty theft, labor disputes, arson and murder that led to these lynchings.
This fact requires a richer, more nuanced understanding of discrimination that is critical of racism and sexism at the same time. Martyrs such as Laura Nelson and Mary Turner experienced racial and sexual violence at the hands of vigilante lynch mobs because of their race and gender.
According to Laura Nelson and Mary Turner, in May 1911, Laura Nelson was lynched in Okemah, Oklahoma. Nelson allegedly shot a sheriff to protect her son. The officer had been searching her cabin for stolen goods as part of a meat-pilfering investigation. A mob seized Nelson along with her son, who was only 14 years old, and lynched them both. However, Nelson was first raped by several men. The bodies of Laura and her son were hanged from a bridge for hundreds of people to see.
Lyndia Grant is a speaker/writer living in the D.C. area. Her radio show, “Think on These Things,” airs Fridays at 6 p.m. on 1340 AM (WYCB), a Radio One station. To reach Grant, visit her website, www.lyndiagrant.com, email email@example.com or call 240-602-6295. Follow her on Twitter @LyndiaGrant and on Facebook.