Strange fruit hangin’ from the
Pastoral scene of the gallant South
-(Billie Holiday, “Strange Fruit,” Abel Meeropol)
Leaving behind nights of terror and
Into a daybreak that’s
Bringing the gifts that my ancestors
I am the dream and hope of the
-(Maya Angelou, “And Still I Rise: A Book of Poems”)
was the place where children waited for a hug and a bowl of neck-bone
soup. The mending of clothes took place there. People sang and danced
in those homes, seemingly with not a care in the world.
and lust resided in those homes too. All the indifference and cruelty
of the enslavement enterprise represented itself in the tired bones,
scarred skins, and deflated spirits that prayed for freedom before
laying their heads down on bare floors.
to escape the confines of plantation cabins was one young Black man
who found employment as a steward, aboard the steamboat, Flora.
the day he enters history, he was tired after working his shift. He
wouldn’t have known the two sailors running past him, wouldn’t
have known the police were chasing them, wouldn’t have known
that once the police took a look at him, they instinctively dropped
their pursuit of the white men. The police were looking at him,
Francis McIntosh, a free Black man.
April 28, 1836, and McIntosh has landed in St. Louis when he is
arrested, writes historian Walter Johnson. He’s jailed, but not
happens to McIntosh reaches President Lincoln who, even as a
proponent of shipping African Americans back to Africa, nonetheless,
called out what he called “mobocracy.” McIntosh “‘was
seized in the street, dragged to the suburbs of the city, chained to
a tree, and actually burned to death; and all within the single hour
from the time he had been a free man, attending to his own business,
and at peace with the world’” (qtd. in The
Broken Heart of America: St. Louis and the Violent History of the
speaking of the violence of white America, calling the lynching, the
first lynching of a Black in America, a lawless act revealing a
lawless spirit, did little to deter white America from using the
remains of McIntosh, Johnson writes, as “a grisly landmark”
at the entrance to the city of St. Louis. The violence inflicted on
the Black body announced to the world that St. Louis was a home town
reserved for white America! “White man’s county”!
remains hung from that tree, attracting white travelers to
their home away from home
while serving, for years, as a warning to Blacks that no home in St.
Louis would ever be available to them.
before the Civil War is to begin and end, city representatives send
the word out that the “colored” wouldn’t be welcome
anywhere other than a plantation cabin. Yet African Americans didn’t
“fit in” on those cabins, either.
much should have been left behind there…
the end of the Civil War, during the years of Reconstruction, African
Americans worked on created hostile territory into home, moving into
one or two-room houses with front and back yards. Nothing fancy. But
home, nonetheless. And homes wasn’t limited to the walls of
individual houses. Down the road or right up the street or right
around the corner, the children were gathered to be taught to read
and write in one-room schools by Mrs. or Miss ______. The next-door
neighbor, or the church organist. Not far away, Dr. ______ delivered
those children and Dr. _____ treated the parents and grandparents
with ailing feet or sore backs or arthritis at the Black hospital.
Pastors administered to the faithful; businessmen ran barber shops,
grocery stores, businesswomen cared for the hair of their friends and
neighbors, and journalists reported the latest news about the
community and its political representatives.
had become something more than four walls and a bare floor; it was a
whole community, a whole world.
there were eyes. Watching. The Old South was slowly slipping away.
difficult to plan for tomorrow if today you are threatened by the
presence of burning crosses on your lawn. Black protests resulted in
the ethnic cleansings of whole communities and even towns, once
home will be in the next town or maybe up north.
these United States, between 1865 and 1950, over 6,000 lynchings (the
Equal Justice Initiative, EJI) of fellow citizens became the pastime
of other citizens convinced of their invincibility. They were, after
all, the reason Earth orbited the sun and the US was home to the
Caucasian race. Never mind the presence of the Indigenous and Black!
The majority of those over 6,000 were Black, hanged from trees or
burned on woodpiles, putting the race on notice that life in this
country for Black people will be, at best, precarious.
practice of domestic terrorism has always served as the training
ground for executing conflict and wars that do more to destroy the
lives of women and children than dispel further military and
political violence from “the enemy.”
1865 and 1876, domestic terrorism picks up where it began with the
further annihilation of Indigenous people and their removal from
conquered lands and in the enslavement of Africans and their
descendants. Torture and the occasional murder of an enslaved Black
became torture and lynching with impunity during Reconstruction. Two
thousand Blacks, men, women, and children, lynched in a 12-year
period (EJI) alarmed few Americans intent on making a stand in the
world as the greatest Empire ever.
so it continued. Between 1877 and 1950, 4,400 Black Americans were
lynched (EJI) throughout the US: Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi. And
Blacks were lynched in California, Texas, Colorado, Nebraska,
Illinois, Indiana, North Carolina, South Carolina, West Virginia,
Virginia, Pennsylvania, New York…
how many just last year, 2020: Ahmaud Arbery in Georgia, Breonna
Taylor in Kentucky, George Floyd in Minnesota…
2021, despite the January 6th Insurrection of predominately white
supremacists and white nationalists, the Vice President is a woman of
Black and Asian descendant, Kamala Harris, and compassion is the
guiding principle in confronting the COVID pandemic and the climate
crisis - for openers.
US isn’t home
yet, for Black Americans. To dwell in whiteness
has to cost America the only “home” she has ever known.