Jonny Cochran of the Newport News writes: “I think the Jena 6 in Jena, La., greatly overreacted at the sight of nooses hanging from a tree next to their school… I don't know what those who put them up meant them to symbolize. But even if that was their way of expressing that they didn't want black students to hang out under that tree, they weren't justified in beating a classmate.” (“Jena 6 Overreacted”, October 8, 2007)
Now here is a pundit who admits not knowing what the noose-hangers meant “to symbolize”. Nevertheless, he proceeds to give his expert opinion on why he thinks “the Jena 6 in Jena, La., greatly overreacted at the sight of nooses hanging from a tree next to their school”.
On the other hand.
“I do not want to diminish the impression that the hanging of the nooses has had on good people,” Jena Mayor Murphy R. McMillin wrote. “I do recognize that what happened is insulting and hurtful… To put the incident in Jena in the same league as those who were murdered in the 1960s cheapens their sacrifice and insults their memory.”
It is one thing to claim that all this stuff is a product of my imagination, but what about this counter-argument of an “overactive imagination” and an “over-reactive response”? Other than “insulting and hurtful”, we would be led to believe the whole Jena 6 case is blown out of proportion.
How can anyone “cheapen” the sacrifice and “insult” the memory of African-Americans who were lynched in the South? Every time I hear about nooses made for lynching black people, I remember the words of Mrs. Mamie Till Bradley: “Look at what they did to my boy”, she cried. Her son was Emmitt Till, a black boy lynched in Money, Mississippi in August 1955.
I was 10-years old and can remember, unto this day, the words of the grieving mother, insisting that the casket be opened at the funeral so she could show the world what race hatred looked like. I saw the horrible picture published in Jet Magazine and never forgot it. Emmitt Louis Till was only 14 years old when he was slain.
This was not just a lynching. Emmitt Till was the most tortured person in human history. Two white men came to the home of Till’s great-uncle in the middle of the night, wanting to talk to the boy about “wolf whistling at a white woman”, which was another ex-post facto Jim Crow Law. They dragged the young man away as he screamed and hollered for his helpless uncle to save him. In a barn, they tortured him all nights, according to the testimony of a passerby who heard Till’s un-muffled screams.
They beat him, gouged out his eye, smashed his head in, draped him in barbwire, dangled him over the Tallahatchie River Bridge, and shot him in the head. When they found him dead with the weight of fan tied around his neck in the river, hamstrung and handcuffed with barbwire, the local newspapers initially reported it as a suicide.
That was the way I remembered it from 1955, although there have been many white revisions of history before and since. Nevertheless, it is still a story some people do no want school children to hear. They would rather they hear a whitewashed version of the Civil Right Movement. As a result, our children are totally ignorant of these happenings, although this is where the movement began to stir, when the white defendants were acquitted and later confessed to a Look Magazine writer.
This made us sick for a whole generation, which generation still lives today, not to mention how James Byrd was dragged behind a pickup truck in Jasper, Texas in 1998. The blood of the dismembered body parts is still soaked into the back roads of this small East Texas town.
I can still hear the screaming in my ear, at night, in my dreams, and whenever I hear men like Jena Mayor McMillin and District Attorney Reed Walters trying to minimize the terrorism black people feel at the sight of a lynch noose. The graves of lynch victims are screaming- screaming not to be forgotten- screaming for justice. For too long, their stories have been silenced.
And when he had opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of them that were slain for the word of God, and for the testimony which they held: And they cried with a loud voice, saying, How long, O Lord, holy and true, dost thou not judge and avenge our blood on them that dwell on the earth? (Revelation 6:9-10)
From the collection of Milford F. Plaines’ African American Holocaust.