“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.”
“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.
Certainly 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.