On July 9, 1868, all former slaves in the United States were granted citizenship by virtue of the newly ratified 14th Amendment. They were, on paper at least, the equals of their white neighbors. Unfortunately, the road to full equality was littered with Jim Crow laws and a wide array of passive and active resistance measures by white America.
One of the most effective ways of keeping America's blacks "in their place" was the overt use of fear and intimidation. Not very long after the Civil War ended a former Confederate general by the name of Nathan Bedford Forrest organized a group of masked Christian vigilantes who scoured the countryside at night terrorizing the new black citizens with beatings and lynchings - always without trial and often without any substantive evidence of wrong-doing. Forrest called his group the "Ku Klux Klan."
The fortunes of the Klan ebbed and flowed over the next century and a half, with the organization surviving to this very day. One of its primary legacies is a history of summary executions, usually in the form of lynchings, where black individuals were accused of a crime or of perpetrating an insult on their white "betters," found guilty by mob consent, and then hung from the nearest stout tree. The practice of lynching moved beyond the bounds of the Klan and into unaffiliated white mobs.
More than 4,000 blacks in the United States have been lynched since the end of the Civil War. Now, at long last, there is a movement afoot to memorialize these victims of hatred and bigotry. A national monument to the history of lynching is being planned for Montgomery, Alabama, and is set to open next spring. The memorial will contain the names of every identified lynching victim in the United States. Another aspect of the memorial will be to place historical markers in every U.S. county where lynchings occurred.
The move for a memorial to the victims of lynchings is also a push back at all the the various Confederate memorials that are still in existence today, something to show that southern culture was more than just mint juleps and evening strolls among the live oak trees and dangling Spanish moss.
Proponents of the lynching memorial also want to draw attention to the fact that summary executions of blacks in this country continue today with police and "stand your ground" vigilante shooters killing unarmed black individuals - often children - with alarming regularity. They would argue that when race is a factor, justice is anything but equal.
DailyKos had an on-line article on the subject of the proposed lynching memorial last week. I posted the following comment to that article:
"The U.S. Postal Service should get involved in this effort also with an "educational" stamp on the horrific subject - as a counterweight to the "cultural" monuments littered across the U.S. that glorify bigotry."
It's time that the history of lynchings in America is recognized and takes its official place on the pages of our history - lest we forget.