FacebookTwitterRedditEmail

I Remember the Lynchings of the 60s. They’re Still Happening

I was naive until I wasn’t.

At just 18, the day after I graduated from high school, I drove from Boston to Atlanta to work with the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC).

Two weeks later, on June 21, 1964, we got word that three young civil rights workers — James Chaney, Mickey Schwerner, and Andrew Goodman — had not returned from investigating a black church burning near Philadelphia, Mississippi. Thirty churches burned that summer.

I was working the night shift and spent the evening calling jails, hospitals, police, and the FBI, searching for word of the young men. I called John Doar, head of the Justice Department’s civil rights division, who pleaded with local FBI agents to help search. The agents refused.

At midnight, I tearfully called the boys’ parents to report our failure in finding them.

Forty-four horrible days later, the civil rights workers were found buried in an earthen dam. Schwerner and Goodman, both white, were each killed with one bullet to their hearts.

Chaney, a black man, had been brutally beaten and shot multiple times. According to an autopsy report, Chaney’s, “jaw was shattered, the left shoulder and upper arm were reduced to a pulp; the right forearm was broken completely across at several points, and the skull bones were broken and pushed in toward the brain.”

That wasn’t all that turned up. In the course of dredging nearby rivers and swamps, Navy seamen dispatch by President Johnson also uncovered the bodies of 10 more black men — some tied up with wire and rope.

In 1964, lynching black people was no longer the open, public entertainment it had once been, but it was still common. Sadly, this remains the case today.

With the latest murders of unarmed black people — Ahmaud Arbery in Georgia, Breonna Taylor and David McAtee in Kentucky, George Floyd in Minnesota — we can no longer deny that racism spans our country from coast to coast, from Mississippi to Minneapolis.

It dates from the earliest years of our nation right up to the present. And from the late 19th century to today, cops have been given impunity, if not encouragement, to take out their aggression on black people — especially when they protest their mistreatment.

In the 1930s, the NAACP would hang its banner declaring, “A Man Was Lynched Yesterday,” on a flagpole reaching out over Fifth Avenue in New York City. We must revive that practice. But now, not far from a century later, we must do more. In particular, white Americans cannot leave it to others to seek justice alone.

We must demand more than investigations and firings. We must sentence those who commit these crimes to maximum-security prisons, not the country club style, minimum-security detention facilities where they can sit alongside politicians and white-collar criminals.

We must also end mass incarceration, the bail bond system, and the disenfranchisement of those who have served their time. And we must eradicate all the legal and social structures that continue to harm the souls and pocketbooks of the previously enslaved citizens of America, a country built on the backs of men and women brought to our shores in chains.

Back in 1964, if the jailer’s wife who answered my phone call had told me the truth — that Chaney, Schwerner, and Goodman were indeed in that jail — or if the FBI had done its job, those three young men could be alive today.

Back then, Mississippi racists complained that we sought more than an end to segregation; that we wanted to change their way of life. We did want that. And we still do. We must finally make white supremacy and racist aggression socially and legally unacceptable.

This work is past due.

More articles by:

James Hightower is an American syndicated columnist, progressive political activist, and author. 

Weekend Edition
July 03, 2020
Friday - Sunday
Peter Linebaugh
Police and the Wealth of Nations: Déjà Vu or Unfinished Business?
Rob Urie
Class, Race and Power
John Davis
A Requiem for George Floyd
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Mutiny of the Bounties!
Richard D. Wolff
Revolutionary Possibilities: Could U.S. Capitalism Turn Nationalist?
Richard Falk
When Rogue States Sanction the International Criminal Court
Louis Proyect
Smearing Black Lives Matter…From the Left
Ralph Nader
Trump and Pence – Step Aside for Professional Pandemic Scientists and Managers
Ramzy Baroud
Tearing Down the Idols of Colonialism: Why Tunisia, Africa Must Demand French Apology
Philippe Marlière
Challenging the French Republic’s Color-Blindness
Richard C. Gross
Attack, Deny
Lee Camp
Connecting the Dates – US Media Used To Stop The ‘Threat’ of Peace
Steve Martinot
The Desire to Kill
David Yearsley
The War on Kitsch
Amy Eva Alberts Warren – Rev. William Alberts
Why are Certain Christians Democratic and Others Authoritarian?
Lawrence Davidson
Covid Madness
Brian Cloughley
Britain’s Disorder and Decline
Ellen Taylor
The US Military Has Its Knee on the Throat of the World
David Rosen
White Nationalists on the Attack
Jeff Cohen
Politicians of Color Should Not be Immune From Criticism
Joseph Natoli
Drawn Away from Reality in Plain View
Frank Joyce
Give Me Liberty,  Give You Death
Jonah Raskin
My Adventures in the Matriarchy
Paul Street
The Racist Counter-Revolution of 1776
Kollibri terre Sonnenblume
The Corruption of the Democratic Party: Talking to Ted Rall about his new book
Medea Benjamin - Nicolas J. S. Davies
Trump’s Record on Foreign Policy: Lost Wars, New Conflicts and Broken Promises
Paul Edwards
A Bridge Too Far
Jennifer Joan Thompson
How to Do Things With Theses: Chile’s National Police Force Sues the Feminist Artistic Collective, Las Tesis
Shawn Fremstad
Vacations for All!
Thomas Knapp
A Modest Proposal for Compromise on “Confederate” Military Bases
Vijay Prashad, Eduardo Viloria Daboín, Ana Maldonado, and Zoe PC
Venezuela’s Borderlands Have Been Assaulted by COVID-19
Thom Hartmann
COVID Masks: The Latest Faux Conservative Outrage
Jesse Jackson
Mandatory College Football Practices in Time of Pandemic are Nuts
Nicholas Vincenzo Barney
Consensus Politics on the Fringe: The Intellectual Dishonesty of the Intellectual Dark Web
Ted Rall
The Data is Clear: Progressives Should Boycott Biden
Theresa Church
In Reconsidering ‘Normalcy’ Genetically Engineered Trees Do Not Belong
Chelsea Carrick
Let’s Not Lose Momentum
Adam Rissien
Sorry Secretary Perdue, Our National Forests are Not Crops
Arshad Khan
India and China Tussle on the Roof of the World
Paul Gilk
A Few Theoretical Percentages
Thomas S. Harrington
“New Corona Cases”:  A Phrase That’s Tells us Very Little, if Anything,  About the Actual Levels of Danger We  Face
Claire Chadwick
I Got COVID-19 at Work. I Won’t be the Last
George Wuerthner
The Upper Green River Should be a National Park, Not a Feedlot
Julian Vigo
Profiteering in the Era of COVID-19
Ravi Mangla
Policing is Not a Public Good
FacebookTwitterRedditEmail