Saturday, May 21, 2011

Was Black Life Cheap Life?

I'm speechless.  For those of you who think that blacks just need to get over it or that the only problem we had before the civil rights movement pertained to this excerpt from pages 14-15 of "I've Got the Light of Freedom" by Charles Payne.

"In 1944, the Reverend Isaac Simmons was farming 295 acres of land in Amite County.  For a couple of years, a group of white men had been trying to get him to sell the land, but he had no interest in that.  Simmons, sixty-six years of age, went to a lawyer to make certain that there would be no trouble transferring the property to his children.  Word of his visit to the lawyer got out.  On the morning of March 26, six armed white men picked up Simmons and one of his sons and drove them to a thickened area where Simmons was told to get out of the car. He tried to run, but two shotgun blasts caught him in the back.  The killers then reloaded the shotgun, walked over to where he had fallen, and shot him a third time.  His son, who had been forced to watch, was beaten and given ten days to get off the land.  When the son returned with friends to reclaim his father's body, he found that all of his father's teeth had been knocked out with a club - presumably after he was already dead - and his arm broken and his tongue cut out.

Such mutilation - parading dead bodies around the town, shooting or burning bodies already dead, severing body parts and using them for souvenirs, using corkscrews to pull spirals of flesh from living victims or roasting people over slow fires - were as much a part of the ritual of lynching as the actual killing.  They sent a more powerful message than straightforward killing would have sent, graphically reinforcing the idea that Negroes were so far outside the human family that the most inhuman actions could be visited upon them."

Wow.  In 1944 a black man was murdered in front of his son because he had too much land and too much money.  I think I can confidently say that the men who murdered him were never brought to justice and probably never even arrested or questioned.

Years ago I heard someone say that "black life is cheap life."  I think this account does an excellent job at illustrating the way that some people valued black life in the Delta during the 1940's.

There are several societal problems that this account illuminates.  I think one of the most interesting aspects of these events is that the men who committed the murder had the audacity to do it in the first place.

Also, Reverend Simmons had no place to go for help.  Imagine living in a world where the police will not protect you because you're black.  You can't trust your attorney to keep your business confidential because you're black.  Your interests and your concerns are like moves on a board games...incidental and not a part of real life or the life that society is willing to acknowledge.

How could you wake up every morning knowing that all that what you're working for could be ripped away from you if the wrong person gets wind of your success.  Imagine having no laws to protect you and no one to care about your story.

The time in which these events took place is also telling to me.  So much of what many people know about saving, wealth building, and the like tends to come from our families.  I wonder if some blacks purposely avoided wealth in order to avoid harassment or even death.  Maybe they understood that if they appeared to have more than the average white man, they would have a target on their back.

My father was born in 1950 not more than a few hours from where these events occurred.  Then men who committed this murder may still be alive.  Even if they're not, their children certainly are.  If they had so little value for black life, what did they teach their children?  Do those children run companies?

These issues are not dead because these people are not dead.  There is a legacy of hate, fear, and oppression that still lingers with us.  It stains us and colors our interactions.  We can deny it, but it will defy and confound us.  We must tell the truth and embrace all of its terrible complexities.  The idea that we are post race is a naive joke.

1 comment:

  1. Dear Yvette, if you could please, could you post a list of the books you read? Sounds like some very important stuff, that we ALL need to read!I turned 37 on the day you posted this blog, and have too not learned enough of my history. Thank you, for your research and eloquent points of view!