Given the troublesome black on black violence that has spiked in Chicago, and the overall black on black violent trends throughout America’s cities, Dyson has a word of encouragement. What does this mean to you? Freestyle with me…
A true freestyle theologian does not merely observe Good Friday and Ressurection Sunday, but rather they also seek to find out what practical implications there are from these biblical principles for their communities. Freestyle with me, are there areas of despair in your life and in society that just seem hopeless? How can Sunday invade those areas of life and community? How might Sunday be coming for you?
While most think of lynchings as something from another era, lynchings while not as numerous went well into the 20th century. The last recorded lynching was on the 21st of March, 1981. The young man’s name was Michael Donald, and he was lynched at the age of 19. Even though we no longer have lynchings occurring in our country currently, nooses have continued to be used as a sign of terror and intimidation in contemporary America. Should we just forget this history as so many have suggested? Freestyle with me…
Prominent African American theologian James Cone has made the connection between crucifixions in the first century under the Roman Empire and lynchings in post Civil War America. Both of these rugged trees were used to maintain control over a people group. Criminals, revolutionaries, and innocent men were hung up on these trees to not only kill the individual, but to also put fear in the eyes of those who saw these dead bodies hanging. Around 70 A.D. over 6,000 Jews were crucified during the Jewish war. And there were over 5,000 blacks lynched after the civil war.
It is on the cross that Jesus, a Jew under Roman rule was crucified upon as well. The cross has become the primary symbol for the Christian faith. However, its historical significance has been lost in current American culture. As we proudly sport crosses around our necks and on top of our buildings, we also have lost the symbolic, cultural, and social weight of the cross from a 1st century Palestine perspective. The cross of Jesus must be understood in light of the Roman empire and the rulers that harshly ruled over the Jews. In fact, for us to understand the cross we must step up to the foot of the lynching tree. For it is there, in the harsh, ugly history of lynchings that we get a glimpse of the Cross. And it is there on the Cross that Jesus defeats the dominant rulers and authorities of the world, while also defeating death itself.
“Colossians 2:15 Disarming the rulers and authorities, he (Jesus) has made a public disgrace of them, triumphing over them by the cross.”
While we tend to think of lynchings as an act by a few hateful individuals, the reality is that often times it was an event for the whole family. Many times as seen above, the whole town came out to watch the black body swing until the last breath has gone out.
Often black males were castrated before they were lynched. Many were also set on fire as this picture depicts. Pictures then would be taken with the townsfolk posing (often with grins) in the background. These public spectacle lynchings were especially common the first few decades after the civil war and the abolition of slavery.
Unfortunately, lynching is as much an American symbol as applie pie. You don’t have to teach people about a noose, because even if someone doesn’t know the details, a noose’s meaning is embedded deep into America’s core. It’s an ugly part of our history that most want to ignore or forget. That is because lynchings were so prominent in America. In fact, nearly 5,000 African Americans were lynched in the United States between 1860 and 1890 alone. Lynchings continued to be used as a means of control and fear over blacks well into the 1900’s. We will never know exactly how many black men were murdered this way, since not all lynchings were even recorded.
Here is old footage of Billie Holiday performing her classic song Strange Fruit. Strange Fruit is a powerful and vivid song describing the henous lynchings that took place in the south. The strange fruit was the dead black bodies that were left hanging on the trees. This practice of lynching black bodies (especially black males) became prominent AFTER slavery was over, to maintain control and fear over the black population. Sometimes we gotta look back and understand where we have come from to better understand where we are headed.