Their Faces Haunt Us Still
What must we do with the faces that gawk at us from black and white photos, steaming, joyous, and jubilant as they celebrate another successful lynching?
We have researched time and again the victims of these horrific crimes, attempting to decipher their lifestyles to understand if any of their previous life choices led them to this unfortunate violent end — this cliff whereupon they are immolated.
What grievous crime must a man commit to merit such a violent death? Must he ravage and rape innocent white children? How many of them must he devour before he is apprehended and given such an expedient, extra-judicial execution at the end of a noose? His testicles severed off, his penis as well, and his body parts sold off to the highest bidder as souvenirs of war.
But we know that is not the case. Whether Black men were guilty or innocent, such death was unbecoming to the civilized freedom-selling Americans of antiquity. Or was it?
What about a woman? What heinous act must she commit to warrant the brutalization of her most intimate parts, the burning of her innermost private organ, and the breaking of her neck at the noose? Must she kidnap white children? Feed them to wolves and bears? Must she dash the brains of white babes on rocks, laughing through it all? Must she poison the food of her employer, her white employer?
We know none of these were the case. We know now, certainly, that many white Americans sought to kill these innocent Black women simply because they dared to stand against the inhumanity of racial terror and the grotesque murder of their fathers, husbands, brothers, and sons. They spoke and their words were enough. They stood and their stand was offensive enough. They dared not cover their faces in fear, their deviant rage visible to all, and that was enough to have a rope wrung around their necks and pulled until their thriving bodies went limb.
What of the children? The little black boys and black girls whose bodies were rattled with bullets and thrown into fire pits. What evil must children commit to deserve such a death? Must they have burned down a church filled with white people? Perhaps they burned down a school where only white children are matriculated? Must they, perhaps, in a moment of hyper-awareness, understanding their plight in America, have stood up to white bullies who spat at them, beat them, kicked them, and called them all sorts of names? Standing up to bullies can be a deadly business, you know.
We know, however, that none of that was ever the case. Black boys and girls were but fodder for the blaze governing these marauding lynch mobs. Their mere presence in the wave of violence was enough to have their little bodies lifted from the floor by dozens of madmen and thrust into fire pits alive. Some were kicked in the head until they seized and squirmed about, concussed and convulsing from a swelling and bleeding brain.
Terror. Terror. Terror is all we see and for what? Why?
What plagues me, yes, is the lifeless corpses that hang from trees, lampposts, and street signs. Their testimony is in their blood, screaming at us to remember them, remember their lives, and remember their final moments.
But what haunts me is the gladness, glibness, and supercilious look on faces stung by sunlight yet unaffected by cruelty.
People wonder not only what happened to the Jews who survived the holocaust, what their horror stories are or were. They wonder if any of them held on to hope of escape from those hellish camps or, in light of their situation, some wonder if the Jews had learned to live with pessimism, selfishness, and death. Many speculate what starvation did to their bodies whereas others wrote about the pangs of hunger extensively after the war. We have pictures, evidence, really, of what strategic starvation did to the bodies of the Jews in those camps. In some cases it looked like some of them had been starved of their very souls as the light of life in their eyes had disappeared a long time ago while their corpses walked about like gloves without hands to move them.
But fewer wonder about the ensuing life of Nazi camp leaders, soldiers, nurses, and administrators. The ones who were not immediately executed by liberating forces, the ones who were not tried and executed by allied tribunals, nor arrested and given life sentences after the war.
Why aren’t there as many books, movies, and plays about Nazi family men and women who worked for the Nazi menace by day and functioned as regular members of a civilized society by night and how they continued to shape German society after the war? We understand why.
Nazism was seen as a global menace, a sickness in the heart of Germany, a disease that festered and killed in Europe and beyond in the name of a racial superiority myth.
High ranking nazis were not given the primacy they had at the peak of the regime once the war was over. They were not returned to positions of influence, hyper leadership without supervision, and culture and policy formation in the presence of surviving Jews.
They were forced into hiding. The most culpable ones who fled authorities and survived the preying eyes of Mossad kept their lives and livelihoods in absolute secrecy for the remainder of their lives, some only being found and tried as war criminals well into their 90s.
But in America.
In America, white supremacy never understood its cancerous root, its insidious nature in consuming its beholder.
In America, once the dust settled after the American Civil War the same men who set off to war for their right to own Black people came home, ashamed, broke, tortured by PTSD, and aware that their cash cows, namely, slaves, were now either gone for good or walking the streets jubilant and free.
These pardoned criminals, inciters of violence, insurrectionists, were home and still battle ready, battle weary, and battle prone. Having lost to a national force prepared for battle they now turned their hate and ire toward a dispersed and disarmed and unprepared under caste of freedmen and women whose only crime was being born black in a white world.
The same ambushing tactics used on the battlefield against Union soldiers were now used against innocent churchgoers as they left Sunday morning service. Hooded men went about razing homes to the ground, scorched earth theory in full swing, searching and destroying their enemy wherever he or she could be found, awake or asleep, armed or disarmed, combatant or unaware, they were cut down, mowed down, from dawn to dusk, their blood painting American soil for the world to see.
Confederate soldiers found little resistance and used that to their advantage to make their world not only theirs, again, but theirs with vengeance.
White supremacists would murder and pillage and then return to their positions in society as bankers, tellers, doctors, bailiffs, judges, officers, ministers, treasurers, milkmen, newspaper delivery men, farmers, mechanics, and homeless vagabonds who wandered to and fro without care for life or consequence.
Many hid their faces at first, presuming their crimes against innocent people would invite the ire and judgment of other Americans but upon a successful White Redemption, the restoration of White Rule allowed them to remove the hoods and commit their crimes for all to see with impunity.
Therefore we have, now, these proud men and women who gaze at us and we at them, both wandering about each other.
They wonder just how many Americans will see their masterpiece and we wonder how could such good law-abiding citizens commit such horrors?
What haunts me and horrifies me is that these people, at least the ones in the main picture have lived long enough to influence much of how our society is today.
We do not have pictures of Nazis hanging Jews after the war and then returning to positions of power.
But in America that is exactly the case.
Youths holding signs shouting about segregation now, tomorrow, and forever.
Youths and parents shouting at Black kids as they integrate previously segregated schools. Spitting on them with the crowds’ support.
Where do we believe these people are today? Where has their ire gone? Has it dissolved over the years or has their overt behavior become internalized as they hide their true motives, masking their true sentiments in the face of a world that sees their vitriol as insidious and damnable?
I mean, really.
Where have all the nasty racists gone? The ones who spat at Black people, shot at them, kicked them, and sentenced them to death either in the field or on the electric chair?
Where have they gone?
Have they vanished? If so, when exactly?
Was it when black and white photos took on color? Was it perhaps when Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated? Was it perhaps somewhere between the 1970s and 1980s? What in those two decades would’ve been enough to turn them from decades-long hatred?
If they had been in their teens during the 1950s and 1960s, fuming at the sight of Black enfranchisement and Black humanization, then just how much influence could they have had over society since then through overt and covert racist acts, policies, laws, and cultural formation?
Let’s work the math here. If someone had been 17 in 1950, old enough to spit at uppity negroes, and old enough to terrorize them, I must ask, where did all that hatred go?
Think about it. Just how much damage has covert racism done to America in the years after the Civil Rights era? Did Klansmen just have a change of heart? Did they just wake up one day, walk to their closet, grab their white robes and hoods of terror, lead their family to the backyard, light a bonfire, and set their suits of terror ablaze before them all? How many stories are there of Klansmen burning their robes? How many family histories are there of Klansmen denouncing their white supremacy before their family members, wives, kids, and community members?
Now, consider if that 17-year-old were 17 in 1960!
Listen, I’m not saying your granddad and grandma were Klans-folk, hey, if you’re from Tennessee, Virginia, Georgia, the Carolinas, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, Texas, Indiana, Missouri, Ohio, Michigan, and Illinois, there’s a very good chance that granddad was a Klansman and an even higher chance than that that your great-grandfather was a Klansman in the 1920s since it was then that the Klans membership exceeded anywhere between 10–20 million in America. That number peaked in 1926. So, if great-granddad was in his teens and twenties in the 1920s he might’ve been a Klansman, considering the population of America then was 117 million. So, 10% of you white Americans reading this post have a Klansman in the family. Violent or not, that family member dawned the robes of white tyranny to promote white power.
Think about it. Think about it thoroughly.
Returning to our rage-filled youths of the 1950s and 1960s, it’s now 2022, and if our 17 had been 17 in 1950 he or she would be 89 today.
Had they been 17 in 1960 they’d be 79 today.
You’re looking at your grandparents and thinking… where did all that racism go? Where did all that spitting, slicing, dicing, and rage go? Did it reach a point of appeasement? Were enough Black kids and youth and adults harassed over the years that their wrath was appeased? Were they satisfied when the Klan handed the baton over to the police? Was it when lynchings turned into mass incarceration? When white rule became color-blind rule that disproportionately affects people of color? Namely, Black Americans?
I mean, think about it.
Just how much influence do you believe these people, the hateful ones, have had over the formation of our society until they had a redemptive change of heart? Just how many corporate entities have they influenced into not hiring Black or colored people over the decades? How many police departments do you believe have been influenced to target Black men and women over white people who committed the same crimes? How many judges do you believe were influenced by these sickly racist thoughts and ideas about Black inferiority and white superiority in the eyes of the law? How many life sentences or death sentences do you believe were dropped on the soldiers of Black folk over the decades as a result, not directly of the crimes committed by Black Americans but direct result of racial bias?
How many communities were constructed over these decades by these hate-filled people, shaped, and structured to oust Black Americans, and thwart their financial and residential advancement? How many of them became legally segregated and culturally white and “sanitized” environments for white people only?
If you don’t believe that’s the case then how you do explain exclusively white neighborhoods? Did they just happen that way? Randomly in the 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s? Do you honestly believe that?
How many churches, seminaries, and religious institutions were influenced to demand the stoppage of racial intermingling, dating, and marrying of people of the same faith as a result of racial bias?
Just how many political ideas, institutions, and policies were written, passed, ratified, and celebrated by these hate-filled youths who made their livelihoods in politics for decades later?
Now… you’re probably thinking they have all but died, the worse of them, of course. That’s what we like to believe. That’s what we want to believe. We want to know that these people, these kids in these pictures, deriding, maligning, mocking, and harassing Black people, again, and again have all died and disappeared, along with Klan robes, hanging Black bodies, and the evil of America’s long forgotten past.
But the truth is that granddad and grandma may have internalized their hatred.
Worse yet is that many of them passed on their hatred of minorities to your parents, their children, albeit in more sanitized ways.
Instead of saying, “We used to hang those uppity negroes.” They said, “We don’t affiliate with their kind.”
Instead of saying, “Back in my days we would light their house on fire to teach them who’s boss.” They said, “You see how Blacks are just prone to criminal behavior?”
And your parents, having been victims of such covert vitriol and hate, albeit sanitized, passed the same racism on to you, in an even more sanitized vernacular, removed of its racist overtones to appease white racists in a mythical color-blind America.
So now you and others hear:
“How come African Americans make up only 13% of the American population but they commit more than 50% of the country’s crimes?”
“If he hadn’t been in the car with those hoodlums he wouldn’t have been shot by that cop.”
“Why was he playing with a toy gun in the middle of a playground? That kid was asking for trouble.”
“We don’t want illegals in our country. They bring disease, drugs, and crime. They’re rapists. Just send them back wherever they came from.”
“Speak English! This is America!”
“Fatherless is the number one problem in African American communities. No, no, I’m not racist because I have a Black friend.”
The ire is sanitized more and more with every generation because simply calling a Black man a nigger is no longer a socially viable behavior and demanding his lynching publicly is sure enough to make one lose their job.
Therefore, people now call Black American youths super-predators or thugs or hoodlums, and instead of publicly calling for their lynching they simply call the police who show up and shot the lucky ones dead on the spot, and the unlucky ones are tortured, beaten, asphyxiated to death.
The ones who survived the police lynching are taken to court months or years later where they are metaphorically lynched and raped by racially biased judges and dehumanized by prison wardens who find financial and sexual gratification from incarcerating scores of Black men, women, and youths, thus recreating the under caste of antiquity today.
The reason, I find, that their faces haunt us still is because they’re still here, influencing us to this day. Their ire, their hate, their vitriol, and their racism are still here.
They just made their kids and grandkids believe the myth of color-blindness, the mythical progress of racial reconciliation, the supposed “nonsense” and the financially irresponsible idea of reparations, the wastefulness and unAmerican effort to teach American children about the realities of slavery, white Rule, white Redemption, Jim Crow, Native American genocidal wars that were more effective and successful than the Nazi regime’s war on Jews, anti-Chinese immigration acts, and the vile, unpatriotic nature of critical race theory.
Also, mention the term “woke” and they’ll feign a heart attack whilst calling you or anyone who uses the term a communist, radical socialist leftist. Just don’t ask them to define any of these terms.
Lastly, these visages of white terror and white rage grew up, influenced politics, and voted in an orange man who hated immigrants, is a serial adulterer, and whose father was arrested at a Klan rally in the 1920s.
I mean… come on, folks.
Need I say more?
These ghosts are hugging our grandkids, some of them mixed grandkids. There’s hope for change but that must not happen without accountability.
Hate must not live and die unchallenged.
Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves; ensure justice for those being crushed. — Proverbs 31:8 NLT