Lynching hit the news again in the Sunday, July 2, 2017 Columbia Missourian. The article relates that Missouri has the highest number of lynchings, 60, from 1877 to 1950 outside of the deep south.
The headline calls lynching an old disgrace. I believe it is not a disgrace, it is a tragedy for three reasons. Yet, the Columbia Missourian article is a step toward healing. There is literature that states change and overcoming something require three As, awareness, acceptance, action. I believe as a society, the U.S. is on that continuum and each person is somewhere along this path. Articles like this will help us move along on that path toward constructive, healing action.
Lynching is a tragedy and continues to haunt our society for these three reasons:
- First and foremost to the person and the families of those lynched. It is said that when one person goes to prison, the whole family goes to prison due to the loss of that family member’s contribution in terms of affection, support and income, the stigma and harm to the children of that family member and the loss to society from that person’s inability to contribute to society.
How much more is this loss to the family and society in terms of a lynching? That reality cannot be determined, although, perhaps it can be measured by an economist. But from a personal level, I cannot measure it.
- Second, this matters today because lynching is a racist act, a crime perpetrated by those called white against people called black. It is illegal, random and, in many cases, secretive and unprosecuted. In some ways, it is like rape, but much more heinous. It erodes or destroys in each person a belief in our society’s rule of law. It suppresses a person in countless ways. As a woman, if you ever say to yourself you’re not going to anything because it would be dangerous due to a concern over rape, then the threat of rape has suppressed you. How much more does a crime suppress people than one which takes the person’s life like lynching in this random, unpredictable, illegal, secretive, rarely resolved crime?
- Third, the loss of lynching continues to affect each and every person in the U.S. society endlessly in endless ways. The nightmare of lynching stays in a family, a community, a state, a country. Think of how the history of the Holocaust haunts world relations. Think of how lynching haunts our city. The article notes that after a lynching in 1901 in Pierce City, Missouri, the African American population went from 400 in 1900 to 91 in 1910. In 1860, the population of Boone County was 14,452, the population of slaves was 5,034. No need to look at today’s demographics to know that the percentage of African Americans in Boone County is nowhere near the roughly one-fourth of 1860. That loss of population is just one way that lynching continues to affect Columbia, Missouri today.
This is why my heart hurts every single time I drive past the place where the 1923 lynching of James T. Scott took place and why I rejoiced when the historic marker was placed there the fall of 2016. It’s a good step forward.