The organization will also announce plans to open a museum called “From Enslavement to Mass Incarceration” in its 11,000-square-foot headquarters in April 2017. Located in a former slave warehouse, the museum will chronicle the nation’s racial history from the days of slavery to mass incarceration, and like the Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, DC, to grapple with our legacy of racism and understand the connection to the present.
“Our goal isn’t to be divisive,” Bryan Stevenson, the director of the Equal Justice Initiative, told the Times. “Our goal is just to get people to confront the truth of our past with some more courage.”
In 2013, Stevenson’s group placed markers throughout Montgomery detailing the city’s history as a slave market. As The New Yorker reported, while the city had dozens of cast-iron markers referencing its Confederate history, there were none to indicate the presence of the slave trade. And last year, the group released a report called “Lynching in America: Confronting the Legacy of Racial Terror.” The report documents 4,075 lynchings of Black people that took place in Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas and Virginia between 1877 and 1950.
The report discovered several hundred more lynchings than were previously known, and that many of the victims had not been accused of a crime. Rather, “racial terror lynching” was designed to maintain the racial control of Jim Crow segregation by victimizing the entire Black community. Moreover, they were celebratory affairs and horrific “public spectacles” in which the entire white community attended, and no one was held accountable. Lynching was a major impetus leading to the forced migration of millions of African-Americans to the North, and yet there is little effort to address what took place.
According to the report, these lynchings were acts of terrorism “because the murders were carried out with impunity, sometimes in broad daylight, often ‘on the courthouse lawn.’ ” As opposed to so-called “frontier justice,” these killings took place in communities with a viable criminal justice system regarded as “too good for African Americans,” according to the report:
“Large crowds of white people, often numbering in the thousands and including elected officials and prominent citizens, gathered to witness pre-planned, heinous killings that featured prolonged torture, mutilation, dismemberment, and/or burning of the victim. White press justified and promoted these carnival like events, with vendors selling food, printers producing postcards featuring photographs of the lynching and corpse, and the victim’s body parts collected as souvenirs. These killings were bold, public acts that implicated the entire community and sent a message that African Americans were sub-human, their subjugation was to be achieved through any means necessary, and whites who carried out lynchings would face no legal repercussions.”
“In America, we’re not free. We are burdened by a history of racial inequality and injustice. It compromises us. It constrains us,” Stevenson told Co.Exist. “We have to create a new relationship with this history.”
“It’s a place that will be beautiful. It’s a place,” Stevenson added, “that will tell a hard but a necessary story.”
The memorial will have a large, four-sided gallery of 801 suspended six-foot columns, according to The New York Times, each representing a county where a person or people were lynched, with an etching of their names.
This past February at a TED conference in Vancouver, memorial designer Michael Murphy gave a preview of the project.
“Countries like Germany and South Africa and Rwanda have found it necessary to build memorials to reflect on the atrocities of their past in order to heal their national psyche,” Murphy said, as reported by Citylab. “We have yet to do this in the United States.”
In Rwanda there is a healing process known as ubudehe, which means “community works for the community,” according to Murphy. The plan for the memorial is to collect soil from each lynching site and place the soil in each column of the memorial, as if to finally put the victims to rest — an act of “spiritual healing” and “restorative justice,” as he told Citylab.
At a time when the public is gaining awareness of the present-day killing of Black people through racial violence, it is time to also remember the names of those countless victims of lynching throughout America’s past. We must do this if we want true justice.
JOHN EDWARD BRUCE 1856 – 1924
Was a Historian, Journalist, Pan-African Nationalist and the Co-Founder of the Negro Society Of Historical Research.
John Edward Bruce was born into slavery in Piscataway, Maryland in 1856. When Bruce was three years old his father was sold away to Georgia prompting young Bruce and his mother to escape to Washington, D.C. in fear of losing each other. Bruce and his mother Martha resided with Martha’s cousin Busie Patterson who was a body servant to Missouri senator Thomas Hart Benton. This relationship with a powerful white congressman provided the Bruce family with opportunities and access to jobs in white upper-class communities. Martha Bruce, for example, obtained a job in Connecticut working closely with a white family. While in Connecticut, John Edward Bruce enrolled in an integrated school and received his first formal education. Traveling back to Washington, he received a private education and attended Howard University.
Busie Patterson’s connection with the senator was helpful in launching John Bruce’s career in journalism. At age 18 Bruce was an assistant in the office of the New York Times. Starting in 1879 he founded a number of newspapers in the Washington, D.C. area including The Argus Weekly (1879), The Sunday Item (1880), and The Republican (1882) While creating his own papers Bruce was the editor and business manager for the Commonwealth, a major newspaper in Baltimore, Maryland. In 1884 when Bruce was 28 years old he started using the name “Bruce Grit” for his columns. His reputation as an uncompromising opponent of racial discrimination and proponent of African American advancement would grow over the next two decades. In 1910 Bruce was the American correspondent for the African Times and the Orient Review in London. Continuing to use the name “Bruce Grit” he became a regular columnist for several newspapers in the United States, the Caribbean Islands, Europe, and Africa.
Bruce also became prominent on the lecture circuit, giving speeches that addressed lynching, the condition of southern blacks, and the weak American political system that failed to protect the rights of its black citizens. In 1890 he joined activist T. Thomas Fortune’s Afro-American League, the first organized black civil rights group in the nation. He became the organization’s new president in 1898 when it reformed as the Afro-American Council.
In 1911, while living in Yonkers, New York, John Edward Bruce started the Negro Society for Historical Research. His passion for African history led him eventually in 1919 to Marcus Garvey and his Pan-Africa nationalist ideas. Bruce became a father figure to Marcus Garvey when he joined the Universal Negro Improvement Association at the age of 64. He was a featured writer for the organization’s newspapers the Negro World and the Daily Negro Times. Although his health was fading, Bruce continued to work. He worked for the Port Authority of New York until 1922 when he retired. Two years later John Edward Bruce died in New York City.
George was an African-American youth convicted of the first-degree murder and, at age 14, the youngest person executed in the United States in the 20th century. George was executed for the first-degree murder of two pre-teen white girls: 11-year-old Betty June Binnicker, and 8-year-old Mary Emma Thames; HOWEVER NO PHYSICAL EVIDENCE EXISTED IN THE CASE, AND THE SOLE EVIDENCE AGAINST STINNEY JR. THE CIRCUMSTANTIAL FACT THAT THE GIRLS HAD SPOKEN WITH STINNEY AND HIS SISTER SHORTLY BEFORE THEIR MURDER, and the testimony of three white police officers, who testified at a trial which lasted barely two hours, that Stinney had confessed to the murders.
The girls had disappeared while out riding their bicycle looking for flowers. As they passed the Stinney property, they asked young George Stinney and his sister, Katherine, if they knew where to find “maypops”, a type of flower. When the girls did not return, search parties were organized, with hundreds of volunteers, and their bodies were found the next morning in a ditch filled with muddy water. Both had suffered severe head wounds.
Stinney was arrested a few hours later and was interrogated by several white officers in a locked room with no witnesses aside from the officers; within an hour, a deputy announced that Stinney had confessed to the crime.
According to the confession, Stinney (90 lbs, 5’1″) wanted to “have sex with” 11 year old Betty June Binnicker and could not do so until her companion, Mary Emma Thames, age 8, was removed from the scene; thus he decided to kill Mary Emma. When he went to kill Mary Emma, both girls “fought back” and he thus decided to kill Betty June, as well, with a 15 inch railroad spike that was found in the same ditch a distance from the bodies.
According to the accounts of deputies, Stinney apparently had been successful in killing both at once, causing major blunt trauma to their heads, shattering the skulls of each into at least 4-5 pieces. The next day, Stinney was charged with first-degree murder.
With the murders raising racially and politically charged tension. Townsmen threatened to storm the local jail to lynch Stinney, but prior to this, he had been removed to Charleston by law enforcement.
Following Stinney’s arrest, George Sr. his father was fired from his job at the local lumber mill. Stinney’s parents and siblings were given the choice of leaving town or BE LYNCHED. The family was forced to flee, leaving George Stinney with no support during his 81-day confinement and trial.
The entire Stinney trial, including jury selection, took one day. Stinney’s court-appointed defense counsel was a tax commissioner campaigning for election to local political office. Stinney’s lawyer did not challenge the three police officers who testified Stinney confessed to the two murders, despite this being the only evidence presented by the prosecution. The police did not make written records of Stinney’s purported confession, and at trial, Stinney denied confessing to the crime.
The jury at Stinney’s trial consisted entirely of white people; due to racial segregation, no African-Americans were present in the courtroom.
Other than the testimony of the three police officers, at trial, prosecutors called three inconsequential witnesses: the man who discovered the bodies of the two girls, and the two doctors who performed the post mortem. Stinney’s counsel did not call any witnesses. Trial presentation lasted two-and-a-half hours. The jury took ten minutes to deliberate, after which they returned with a guilty verdict with no recommendation for mercy. Stinney was sentenced to death in the electric chair. When asked about appeals, Plowden replied that there would be no appeal, as the Stinney family had no money to pay for a continuation. When asked about the trial, Lorraine Binnicker Bailey, the sister of Betty June Binnicker, one of the murdered children, stated:
“Everybody knew that he done it, even before they had the trial they knew that he done it. But, I don’t think that they had too much of a trial”.
Local churches, the N.A.A.C.P., and unions pleaded with Governor Olin D. Johnston to stop the execution and commute the sentence to life imprisonment, citing Stinney’s age as a mitigating factor. There was substantial controversy about the pending execution, with one citizen writing to Johnston, stating, “Child execution is only for Hitler”. Still, there were supporters of Stinney’s execution; another letter to Johnston stated: “Sure glad to hear of your decision regarding the nigger Stinney.” Johnston did nothing, thereby allowing the execution to proceed.
The execution was carried out at the South Carolina State Penitentiary in Columbia, South Carolina on the morning of June 16, 1944, less than three months after the crime. At 7:30 a.m. Stinney walked to the execution chamber, a bible under his arm, which they later used as a booster seat in the electric chair.There were difficulties strapping the boy who at 5-1 feet and just over 90 lbs was comparably small for his age, to the electric chair. In addition, the state’s adult-sized face-mask used in executions did not fit properly. As a result, according to witnesses, it slid of his face during the execution, exposing his face to the witnesses “revealing his wide-open, tearful eyes and saliva coming from his mouth. Stinney was pronounced dead less than four minutes after the execution began. From the time of the murders until Stinney’s execution, 81 days had passed.
It was later found that a beam with which the two girls had been killed weighed over twenty pounds. It was ruled that George wasn’t able to lift the beam, let alone swing it hard enough to kill the two girls.
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