The lynching of black Americans has been an
ugly, forgotten secret in our nation's past. Now, a historic photo
exhibit has exposed the magnitude of a horror we can no longer ignore.
By Vivian Lowe
As morning dew settled on the almost unidentifiable remains of
a Negro whose tragic fate had been sealed at the hands of an angry
white mob, black undertaker J.B. Stone removed the ravaged body left
hanging from a tree and prepared it for burial.
It was Nov. 3, 1920. A young and determined July Perry had voted in his
hometown of Ocoee, Florida. But as word of an "uppity n____r"
exercising a right traditionally reserved for decent white people
spread like wildfire, a violent rage took over the city, and a racial
massacre became imminent. Badly beaten and nearly shot to death, Perry
was taken from his jail cell to nearby Orlando, Florida, where he was
strung from a tree and hanged to death. The hate-filled crowd
dispersed, and the rest is history.
Today, many of Ocoee's residents would rather forget the stories
detailing the lynching of July Perry--an event that has plagued the
small Florida community for some 80 years. But for many African
Americans, ignoring the atrocities of racism produces hatred and
distrust and widens the gap of separation between blacks and whites.
"It is imperative that Christians count the cost and realize that they
are the vessels that God desires to use to repair or heal the land,"
says Randy Skinner, director of the National Criminal Justice Task
Force in Colorado Springs, Colorado.
The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP)
reported 3,436 people were lynched between 1889 and 1922. The
practice--dubbed the "black holocaust" by James Cameron, founder of
America's Black Holocaust Museum--gained momentum well into the 1960s,
with some sources citing 4,730 lynchings between 1882 and 1968.
Cameron, 87, who was nearly lynched himself in 1930, says numbers of
unreported cases were much higher.
Common were scenes of thousands of people flocking to huge,
carnival-like events, with as many as 10,000 "spectators" attending one
lynching. America had developed a bizarre pastime that was rooted in
the South but spread rapidly through the North.
One lynching involved the brutal killing of Luther Holbert, accused of
killing his white employer, and his wife. In Without Sanctuary--the
groundbreaking, newly released photo compilation by Twin Palm
Publishers--contributing writer Leon F. Litwack quotes the Vicksburg
Evening Post description of the 1904 killing of the Holberts in
Doddsville, Mississippi: "When the two Negroes were captured, they were
tied to trees, and while the funeral pyres were being prepared, they
were forced to suffer the most fiendish tortures.
"The blacks were forced to hold out their hands while one finger at a
time was chopped off. The fingers were distributed as souvenirs."
Characteristic of lynchings were the ritualistic-style executions
unlike any other form of brutality in American history, say African
American historians. It's proof, says Skinner, that lynchings were a
form of human sacrifice--a practice common to occultic worship today.
Victims often were burned alive as they were hanged from bridges, trees
or light poles. Children would sift through the remains in search of
collectibles. Photos of the scene were commonly taken, then made into
postcards and sold for a profit.
Many lynching victims were charged with crimes that some experts say
were rarely actually committed, such as rape, stealing, "being rude to
white people," murder and more.
The Vicksburg Evening Post goes on to say that the ears of the alleged
murderers were cut off. Then Holbert was beaten severely, his skull was
fractured and one of his eyes, knocked out with a stick, hung by a
shred from the socket.
"The most excruciating form of punishment consisted in the use of a
large corkscrew in the hands of some of the mob. This instrument was
bored into the flesh of the man and woman, in the arms, legs and body,
and then pulled out, the spirals tearing out big pieces of raw,
quivering flesh every time it was withdrawn."
Few people today realize how many African Americans, like the Holberts,
were tortured and lynched in American history. Not many understand the
cruelty behind these acts of violence. But a historic photo exhibit and
photo history book have finally exposed the horrors of these heinous
acts of hatred.
In Without Sanctuary, contributing editor James Allen reveals the
barbaric practice of lynching in the United States. The graphic photos
have prompted readers, including black and white Christians, to face
the history our nation has chosen to forget.
Racism: Still Alive and Well
In 1994, when white and black Pentecostals gathered in Memphis,
Tennessee, to repent of centuries-old racial sins and to wash one
another's feet as a sign of humility, key leaders considered the
gathering miraculous, dubbing the event the "Memphis Miracle." At a
glance, it appeared as though the group's push toward unity was the
dawning of a new day for reconciliation among Spirit-filled believers.
Black churches swapped choirs with white ministries, and white churches
opened their pulpits to black preachers. Their actions lent credence to
the belief that racism was a thing of the past. A closer observation,
however, by the Rev. Mark Pollard, head of the National Common Ground
Coalition, a reconciliation ministry based in Atlanta, suggests the
opposite is true.
"We are right where we were 100 years ago," Pollard told Charisma.
"These photos reflect the ugly wound that America has yet to deal
Pollard and other agents of racial change say the purpose of addressing
the motives behind the lynching of literally thousands of black people
is to deal with the cancer that remains in the bloodstream of America.
Referring to racial supremacy, slavery and racial prejudice toward
African Americans and Native Americans, Pollard and others suggest
racism is alive and well in the United States.
During the 1990s, the federal government's Equal Employment Opportunity
Commission report revealed 47,000 allegations of racial incidents
including church burnings, shootings and the highly publicized dragging
of James Byrd of Jasper, Texas.
On June 7, 1998, three white men beat Byrd, slit his throat and chained
him to the back of a pickup truck by his ankles and dragged him nearly
three miles to his death. Police reports revealed that parts of James'
mutilated body, including his head, right arm and torso were found
scattered about Huff Creek Road.
Two men involved in the Byrd dragging, John William King and Lawrence
Russell Brewer, were found guilty of capital murder by a racially mixed
jury and sentenced to die by lethal injection. The other perpetrator,
Shawn Allen Berry, received life in prison for his part in the gruesome
killing--with no hope of parole for 40 years.
After 25 years of research on the subject of lynchings, James Allen,
who owns the photo collection, is not surprised by attacks against
blacks. Though many Americans claim that their city or town is the
alleged site of "the last lynching," Allen says such claims are false.
"The last lynching that will occur in America is the one [still]
waiting to happen," he asserts.
According to the mother of Raynard Johnson, a 17-year-old black male
who was found hanging from a tree outside his home in Kokomo,
Mississippi, on June 16, 1999, Allen's sentiments ring true. "My son's
death was a modern-day lynching," says Maria Johnson, responding to a
medical examiner's report that her son's death was a suicide.
"He would have never killed himself," Johnson told Charisma, noting
that her son was a model student. Instead, the 47-year-old mother of
four adult children believes Raynard's death was racially motivated.
"Whoever committed this crime was full of hate," she says.
Douglas Barnes, investigator for the Marion County Sheriff's
Department, stands by the medical examiner's findings. "We've closed
our case, and the state has closed its case. We haven't been able to
prove that his death was not a suicide," Barnes says. Attorney General
Janet Reno launched a federal investigation into the teen's death but
at press time had not released a summary of the findings.
Thirty-five years ago Martin Luther King Jr. was trying to help America
see the pervasiveness of racism even in the church. In a famous
commencement address, "Remaining Awake Through a Great Revolution," he
concluded that the most segregated time in America was when Christians
gathered together to worship: "We must face the sad fact that at eleven
o'clock on Sunday mornings when we stand to sing 'In Christ there is no
East or West' we stand in the most segregated hour of America."
Many believe King's address, given at Oberlin College, underscores an increasing problem in the body of Christ today.
According to research conducted by Barna Research Group (BRG), the
church is divided along racial lines. In BRG's study, "African
Americans and Their Faith," findings indicate that whites and blacks
have "relatively little in common" with regard to faith, lifestyles and
attitudes toward racial reconciliation.
Results released by the California-based group suggest that most whites
don't comprehend--among other things--the vastly different approaches
to life held by their African American counterparts. And a substantial
number of black Americans have very little desire to involve themselves
in a multiracial experience.
Says George Barna, president of the research group: "This confusion
explains why reconciliation efforts have largely failed in our country.
Whites are trying to bring about reconciliation based on a white view
of reality and within the context of white lifestyles and goals."
Healing for Our Nation
Many supporters of racial reconciliation insist God is using these
haunting images of lynchings to pull at the hearts of His people--and
to facilitate healing for America. But they say there must be a
deliberate attempt on behalf of Christians to help institute genuine
change. Skinner and others are addressing the problem head-on. They
suggest a step-by-step process to healing the wounds.
Repentance is the first step. Skinner, who has performed extensive
spiritual mapping on states such as Mississippi that are notorious for
lynchings, says Christians must humble themselves and repent for the
church's participation in slavery and lynchings. He concludes that a
true heart of repentance will help heal the pain of the past. Spiritual
mapping--developing a specific prayer strategy for a particular
area--and saturating a city in prayer will help break the cycle of
generational sin over a city.
Some African Americans are urging Congress to issue a national apology
because the government legislated slavery through the constitution.
They suggest that a model prayer for bringing blessing to a nation is
found in 2 Chronicles 7:14: "If My people who are called by My name
will humble themselves, and pray and seek My face, and turn from their
wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin
and heal their land" (NKJV).
Many supporters believe identifying with the sins of a nation heals old
wounds. "Repentance, reconciliation and healing can take place if
Christians from the black and white communities join together in
identifying the sins and griefs of our forbears," says John Dawson,
founder and director of the International Reconciliation Coalition.
Reconciliation is the second step to healing the scars left by racial
hatred. Leaders of the reconciliation initiative say Christians must
pursue a right relationship with God before attempting to develop
quality relationships with members of a different race. It requires a
sincere desire to break from traditional, religious mind-sets in order
to foster healthy, genuine relationships with fellow African American
brothers and sisters.
"You have to do more than swap pulpits; you have to have true relationship, and it has to be a lifestyle," Skinner says.
Asking honest questions such as "Why do blacks vote for Democrats such
as Al Gore, who supports gay rights and abortion," and "Why do whites
vote for Republican candidates such as George W. Bush, who don't seem
to understand the issues of justice and poverty" has opened the door
for dialogue for some churches pursuing reconciliation.
Skinner, who is white, Pollard and others are paving the way for
discussion on issues that bring both races to the table of
understanding in an effort to develop a strategic plan for unity.
Confessing sin and offering forgiveness, they believe, is critical.
"The act of confession is as powerful in affecting the cleansing and
healing of nations as it is in individuals," Dawson says.
Restitution is the third step in the healing process. In recent years,
the issue of restitution or reparation has been the topic of much
political discussion. Ten years ago, when the question "Should America
make amends for slavery?" arose, those who opposed the measure,
including some blacks, fought long and hard against it. But today, the
issue of compensating African Americans for the injustice perpetrated
on their descendants is gaining momentum.
With Swiss banks paying some $1.25 billion to Jewish victims of the
Holocaust, and the United States paying $16.4 million in reparations to
Japanese-Americans for their internment during World War II, some
believe it is time to revisit the issue of reparations for slavery.
"People ask how are we going to pay restitution to all the descendants
of slavery," Skinner says. "[But] the government promised slaves 40
acres and a mule, and we know that God is a covenant-keeping God."
But beyond financial compensation, some leaders insist that black,
white and Hispanic churches, among others, must pool their resources to
help one another in preparation for a massive revival destined to hit
the United States. Some black leaders, however, believe placing
financial restitution before genuine reconciliation causes resentment
and further separation.
"We shouldn't ask America to pay restitution before we come to a place
of healing," says pastor Jack Gaines of Calvary Evangelical Baptist
Church in Portsmouth, Virginia. "If we do, real change won't occur."
Gaines, 55, believes lynching photos can produce human sorrow, which is
temporal, but he insists that godly sorrow produces lasting change.
"God wants us to know that the atrocities we commit against men
ultimately are sin against God. And He has paid the price to forgive
our sin," he adds.
Several states have started discussing the issue of financial
restitution. According to The New York Times, a state commission has
recommended that Oklahoma pay reparations to blacks for a massacre in
Tulsa in which some 300 people were killed and a black neighborhood was
burned. After the violence, blacks were led to detention centers.
Revival is another key step to racial healing and unity. As director of
a criminal justice task force, Skinner sees an onslaught of violence in
the country. This increased lawlessness will position the church in a
unique place to minister to a great harvest of unsaved people. "We are
going to see an explosion of violence in the suburban and rural areas
unless something happens," he believes.
As a result, the body of Christ--regardless of race or denominational
affiliation--will unite and give birth to what ministry leaders are
calling "cities of refuge"--cities that corporately repent for past
sins and lay down their ethnic and spiritual differences through
fasting and prayer. Leaders say these safe havens will be a place where
unbelievers will find refuge in Jesus Christ before He returns.
They agree the racial mix of a church won't matter because people are
going to flock to churches that see their need and not the color of
Through repentance, reconciliation, restitution and revival, cities
such as Ocoee, Florida, can be healed from atrocities such as the
lynching of July Perry. States across the nation can receive spiritual
cleansing from their participation in lynchings and other deep-rooted
Skinner believes African Americans will be at the helm of this move of God.
"When suffering comes to America, it will be our African American
sisters and brothers who will rise up with authority and an anointing
to lead the church to repentance and great revival," Skinner says.
"They know what it feels like to suffer." *
Valerie G. Lowe is an associate editor for Charisma and Ministries
Today magazines. She lives in central Florida. The editors of Charisma
invite your comments about the issues raised by this article. Visit our
Racial Reconciliation forum at www.charismamag.com.
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