By Vivian Blevins
What’s your opinion? Ahmaud Arbery, 25 and black, was jogging in a neighborhood in Glynn County, Ga., on Feb. 23, 2020. He was pursued by three white men and murdered by one of them, Travis McMichael, who shot him three times. Two months passed before an arrest was made. What if the incident had not been videotaped and the video had not gone viral? Was this an example of lynching?
Some have the mistaken belief that lynching only applies to black men who are hanged. Not true. Women, children, and persons of color as well as whites have been lynched. And the methods are diverse: They have been beaten, dragged, set on fire, cut into pieces and castrated, shot, submerged in water until they can no longer breathe. The methods are only limited by the tools available and the imagination of the perpetrators.
Retired Edison State Community College professor, poet, and native Alabamian, Jane Kretschmann, has written a drama entitled “Lynching Alabama.” She writes, “By accident, I learned that Jesse Thornton, age 26, was lynched in Luverne, Alabama. The reality of that murder haunted my conscious self — and, yes, my conscience- for days. All my life I never knew that just six years before I was born, a Black man was lynched so close to my home. Then I learned of three other lynchings in that same county.
“Of course, I knew about lynchings in general, but these were people whose families were likely living near my own family. Upset by my ignorance of my state’s violent past, I began to research other such murders. The more I read, the more distressed I became at the horror of what I was learning but also at the fact that, until Thornton, I did not know the name of a single person who had been lynched in Alabama. How could I have been so blind!”
I directed Kretschmann’s drama with a cast of 14 area African Americans and 6 area whites at Edison State on Feb. 23, 2022. Retired African American Black history teacher and community activist Larry Hamilton participated in the production and says, “The lack of historical knowledge of the particulars of lynchings in Professor Kretschmann’s education in Alabama was an intentional goal of a segregated school system. Today, many of us are insisting upon the expansion of Diversity, Equity, & Inclusion in the curricula of public schools. As an important part of DEI, we advocate Say Their Name and by so doing are recognizing that those murdered by all forms of lynchings are more than numbers and were human beings of worth.”
After numerous attempts over decades, the Emmett Till Antilynching Act was signed by President Biden on March 29, 2022, after being approved by the U.S. House on Feb. 28, 2022, and the U.S. Senate on March 7, 2022. The act indicates that it is a federal hate crime to commit “any conspired bias-motivated offense which results in death or serious bodily injury.”
Arkansas native and African American Pearl Lofton, 78, has a sense of the horrors that may visit persons when they have been accused of acts, or fabricated acts, designed to wreak havoc and often death to those who have been identified as deserving such wrath. Her stories have come from relatives, and I will share two as well as another that occurred when she was 11 years old.
· Lofton was four months old when her father, Edward Ray, (May 1913 to March 2011), a sharecropper, learned that “the KKK had put the word out that they were coming for him. He took a bus to LaGrange, Ill., where his sister Emma had opened her house to him and got a job in Chicago at General Motors in the diesel engine department. By December of 1944, he had saved enough money for his wife, Mamie Galaspy Ray, and their four children to join him at his sister’s home.” Lofton never knew why the KKK was “coming for him.”
· Lofton’s husband’s parents shared another story with the family. “Uncle James had bought a brand-new Cadillac and invited them and a third relative to travel with him to Mississippi to visit family. As they were returning home to the Chicago area, they stopped in a Mississippi town to make a purchase when a group of men, probably members of the KKK, began trailing them after being overheard by a white man saying, ‘We’ll get those n———, take care of them. They got no business in that beautiful car, so smart and uppity.’ The group of men followed them out of town to an area where there were no houses and pulled them over. They took the two men in the car out into a field with an intention of killing them.
“A white man had overheard their plans and went to the town sheriff’s office. The sheriff arrived just in time to stop the killing and said to the African American travelers, ‘Get back in your car. Go on. Get out of town.’ They survived that day thanks to a good white man who went to the sheriff’s office to reveal the plans.”
· A third event that is very close to Lofton: She has a special connection with Emmett Till as he and her brother Fred, who passed in 2020 due to the coronavirus, were good friends. “When Emmett knew he was going south to visit relatives in Mississippi, he invited Fred to go along. And the arguments began at our house for what seemed like days. I remember Mother saying, ‘It’s too dangerous. If you go there, you won’t come back. You got to act in a certain way, and you’ll go down there and get in trouble.’”
In conclusion, we all know what happened to Emmett Till in Mississippi that summer of 1955. We can never forget the photo of his mutilated body at his funeral service or his mother’s declaration that she wanted an open casket because she wanted the world to see what they had done to her boy.
Does knowing something of American history from the perspective of those who’ve lived it matter? Is it important? I think so.
Vivian B. Blevins, Ph.D., a graduate of The Ohio State University, served as a community college president for 15 years in Kentucky, Texas, California, and Missouri before returning to Ohio to teach telecommunication employees from around the country and students at Edison State Community College and to work with veterans. Viewpoints expressed in the article are the work of the author. The Daily Advocate does not endorse these viewpoints nor the independent activities of the author.