A Town Baptized in Blood

“Lynching . . . had little connection to black-on-white rape – or murder – even though newspaper accounts often portrayed it that way. Lynching was an instrument of terrorism and not a punishment for crimes committed, It was generally a tool whites used to keep blacks in their place – especially those who were trying to make their way in society after the deprivations of slavery.

In the early 20th century, there was much racial tension in Georgia. The state had one of the highest rates of imprisoning black men, often just to use them as free labor once slavery ended. Georgia also had the dubious honor of being one of the states with the highest number of lynchings.”

06172016p16phb“A book driven by irony,” is the way reviewer Diane Scharper describes The Family Tree: a Lunching in Georgia, a Legacy of Secrets, and My Search for the Truth, by Karen Branan. The book, meticulously documented according to the reviewer, but perhaps overly detailed, is undoubtedly an important memoir of a past that our society still prefers to ignore.

06172016p16phaCertainly reading the review, which tells the basic story of the mob lynching in the author’s home town, and her own family’s shameful involvement in it, may be the most important five minutes you can spend today. It will haunt you long after you move on to something else.

Irony is one of the most important tools for serious reflection in my own personal toolbox. I could not escape the irony of the moment.

I think the reviewer, and presumably the author, is correct in describing lynching as “an instrument of terrorism,” used on a massive scale – and instrument of fear and hatred having no relationship to any form of justice.

Today is the day after the terrible terrorist attack at the airport in Istanbul, Turkey, a city and country – and a people – whom I have come to know and love over the past decade or more. The irony is enhanced by the realization that this is feast day which commemorates the double martyrdom of St. Peter and St. Paul by Emperor Nero. Tomorrow we celebrate the rest of the Christians put to death in the most gruesome of ways by Nero, seeking to make a small new group of people who were unpopular with the masses in Rome scapegoats for his own incompetence and ambition.

While we have concern about the victims of terrorism and persecution today, as well as the violence that threatens all we hold dear, I think we need to be even more concerned about falling into the trap of ourselves becoming perpetrators of evil inflicted on others through our own blind fear and paranoia.

It has been said, rightly I think, that the first lesson of history is that we don’t learn from history. But we must. Unless we can acknowledge and reconcile the sins of our own past, we will inevitably repeat them.

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Author: tomwelbers

I have been a Catholic priest for nearly fifty years, most of that time serving in parish and college campus ministry. I also have professional degrees in theology and liturgy, as well as institutional management, and continue avidly to explore pastoral theology, Scripture, liturgy, ecumenical and interfaith relations, and spiritual direction. I have a passion for sharing insight into our Christian heritage through teaching, writing, and leading pilgrimages, especially to Early Christian World sites in Turkey. Now actively retired from parish ministry, I live at Nazareth House in Los Angeles.

1 thought on “A Town Baptized in Blood”

  1. Dear Fr Tom, Just sent a note to Aydin sending our love and sorry shared in this latest attack. He had sent a note early this morning.
    Thank you for your thoughts (so true)
    about our own history. As I reflect on myself and my 70+ years I know Saints Peter and Paul worked to hard to guide
    Gods people to Love one Another.
    This is the truth-we must continue to teach our children and their children.
    Thank you, joan

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