The Equal Justice Initiative (EJI) recently published a body of work collectively called Lynching in America. It includes some audio interviews and a short documentary called Uprooted. I watched this for starters- it is less than 10 minutes. I will look forward to listening to the stories as well but wanted to get up this post before we move on to our Summer Reading Adventure next week!
I have been donating to EJI since I read Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson, who is the founder and director. This nonfiction book recounts the issues with the prison system and its bias by telling real stories of cases Bryan worked on. It is a powerful, moving read. I actually read Just Mercy during our first reading challenge a few years ago.
I had originally intended on having a listening/watching gathering at my art studio; however, the weather here is too hot (no A/C at the studio and it’s 109°F this week!). That won’t stop me from trying to start a conversation here instead. And hopefully I can share this important work at a later, cooler date.
Uprooted is brief and not nearly as depressing as I had envisioned. This is what I love about EJI’s approach to these tough issues– they address them, but in such a way that you really don’t walk away from reading or watching and feel like you can’t do anything; or that discussing lynching in 2017 might be “too much” with everything happening in our political environs.
The short documentary presents a trio of black women of the same family. Their grandfather/great grandfather, Thomas Miles, was lynched in 1912, Shreveport, Louisiana. His wife and their only child of 6 fled to California and the family has not been back to the South in over 100 years. They decide to return to the small town where his lynching took place to see what they can find. They obtain a few documents — archived newspapers and such– as well as the location of his home, business and the site where he was murdered. He was lynched because it was suspected he had passed a note to a white woman–
One quote that resonated with me was the youngest woman in the group saying, “All they did was tear a family apart.” Thomas’ wife had to get a job since her husband died, their son had to stay with her grandparents– and all for what? Human beings underestimate the trickle effect of such tragedies.
I think opening up a dialogue about this important historical reality in America is critical– embracing and trying to understand these wrongs will help us reconcile and, hopefully, move towards a world where black people do not have to assume the absolute worst about our justice system.
Are these conversations pleasant or easy? No, these are not cat videos. But acknowledging and discussing and learning more about these issues will afford us opportunities to be better people to one another.