In a recent interview with NPR, acclaimed novelist Toni Morrison credits her mother with teaching her to look beyond race. Morrison says her father’s interaction with the worst kinds of racism led him to hate white people:
[My father] was very, very serious in his hatred of white people. What mitigated it was my mother, who was exactly the opposite, who never rejected or accepted anybody based on race or color or religion or any of that. Everybody was an individual whom she approved of or disapproved of based on her perception of them as individuals.
My father saw two black men lynched on his street in Cartersville, Ga., as a child. I think seeing two black businessmen, not vagrants, hanging from trees as a child was traumatic for him.
That would’ve been traumatic for anyone. And even vagrants don’t deserve to hang from trees. Sadly, what Morrison’s father experienced was not unique. As the Equal Justice Initiative revealed in a bombshell report, Lynching in America: Confronting the Legacy of
Racial Terror, the number of lynchings in America have been underestimated by historians.
EJI researchers documented 3959 racial terror lynchings of African Americans in Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, and Virginia between 1877 and 1950 – at least 700 more lynchings of black people in these states than previously reported in the most comprehensive work done on lynching to date.
And EJI also characterized lynchings as forms of terrorism as opposed to isolated hate crimes:
Lynching in America makes the case that lynching of African Americans was terrorism, a widely supported phenomenon used to enforce racial subordination and segregation. Lynchings were violent and public events that traumatized black people throughout the country and were largely tolerated by state and federal officials. This was not “frontier justice” carried out by a few marginalized vigilantes or extremists. Instead, many African Americans who were never accused of any crime were tortured and murdered in front of picnicking spectators (including elected officials and prominent citizens) for bumping into a white person, or wearing their military uniforms after World War I, or not using the appropriate title when addressing a white person. People who participated in lynchings were celebrated and acted with impunity.
So this should serve as some explanation to people who are trying to understand black anger. It doesn’t begin or end with lynchings, but this is as good a place as any to start to understand black resentment.