Monday, April 22, 2013

Falsely Lynched

Abram smith and Thomas Ship (Lynched)

Thomas Shipp and Abram Smith, lynched in Marion, Indiana, on August 7, 1930. Detail of photograph by Lawrence H. Beitler.

   The picture above shows two young men, Thomas Ship (18) and Abram Smith (19 ), being lynched in August 7, 1930. The 2 boys, including James Cameron (16 years old), were accused of shooting a white man, Claude Deeter, and  raping a white teenager, Mary Ball. Word got out that that a hanging was planned, and around 10 to 15 thousand people came to town to witness the event. According to America’s Black Holocaust Museum, Thomas was the first to come out, get beat, and hanged him from the window bars. They then brought out Abe, where the mob beat him down, dragged him down the street to the large trees around the courthouse. They eventually stabbed him, and broke his arms so he wouldn't escape the rope he was in. The lynching party then brought Tommy’s lifeless body from the jail window and hung it next to Abe’s. This is where Photographer Laurence Beitler was called in to take a formal portrait of the dead boys and crowd.
   Towards the end, the crowd called for Cameron. Cameron was badly beaten and dragged from the jail to the square. The lynching party stood him up between the two hanging corpses and placed a noose around his neck. Suddenly a voice rang out, “Take this boy back. He had nothing to do with any raping or killing,” and suddenly, the crowd calmed down, and Cameron stumbled back to jail where he was sneaked out of town to another jail for safekeeping. Jimmy Cameron spent a year in jail awaiting trial. At his trial, Mary Ball finally testified that she had not been raped after all. The all-white jury believed Cameron’s story. 

   This picture is very controversial for the fact that it shows two young boys lynched, with a huge crowd around them.  The event where lynching takes place becomes a community affair, and institutionalization the violence against the black society. Around 1866, there was a rise in lynchings; between 1882 and 1951, 4,730 people were lynched: 3,437 black and 1,293 white. A story that I comes to mind when reading about this situation is Pauline Hopkin’s short story “As the Lord Lives, He is One of Our Mother’s Children.”
   Known to be the “Dean of African American Women writers,” Pauline Elizabeth Hopkins used her literary abilities to address social, racial, and economic themes that reflected on society during her time period. In “As the Lord Lives, He is One of Our Mother’s Children,” published in Colored American Magazine in November 1903, Hopkins wanted to focus on the increase in lynching occurring in the South after the end of the Reconstruction era in 1876. Through the power of religion the story invokes racial uplift, and Hopkins wanted to reveal the ugliness of lynching, “what the anti-lynching activist Ida B. Wells called the “country’s national crime. 

   The short story looks through the perspective of a white Christian minister, Rev. Septimus Stevens who takes in a runaway prisoner, Gentleman Jim. Jim, concealing his identity as George Stone, had been accused of murder, and had escaped from jail when his friend was being lynched by the citizen’s committee. Rev. Stevens had thought to believe that George Stone was a penniless Colorado man hunting for work, but months after he had took him in, a reward flyer for the investigation of “Gentlemen Jim” had led to the revealing of George Stone’s true identity. Jim and his partner, Jones, were two college men that had built a successful business together. Jealousy, sparked by the success of their business, led the “leading men of the town” to run them out of town into the woods. That is where they met Mason, “a fighting man” (248), who wanted trouble with everyone.  He woke up dead one morning, “upon the claim” of Jim and Jones, and were falsely charged for murder. Despite the lies that Stone had told Rev. Stevens, the Rev. had let him stay till the danger cleared so he can move on to a safer place. Later that fall, the Rev. had been saved by Jim, by sacrificing his life for him and his child. Towards the end of the story, Rev. Stevens gives the “greatest sermon of his life.” Through the repetition of the title, “as the lord lives, he is one of our mother’s children,” the Reverend preaches that race becomes something that needs to be forgiven, removed in terms of Christianity. It does not matter what is the color of your skin, because we are all god’s children. Hopkins used religion to develop sympathy for the black community, and create the messages of equality.
Other literary text involving lynching is Claude McKay’s poems “If we Must Die” an “The Lynching.”

If We Must Die by Claude McKay                   

If we must die—let it not be like hogs
Hunted and penned in an inglorious spot,
While round us bark the mad and hungry dogs,
Making their mock at our accursed lot.
If we must die—oh, let us nobly die,
So that our precious blood may not be shed
In vain; then even the monsters we defy
Shall be constrained to honor us though dead!
Oh, Kinsmen!  We must meet the common foe;
Though far outnumbered, let us show us brave,
And for their thousand blows deal one deathblow!
What though before us lies the open grave?
Like men we'll face the murderous, cowardly pack,
Pressed to the wall, dying, but fighting back!

THE LYNCHING by  Claude McKay (1890-1948)

IS spirit is smoke ascended to high heaven.
His father, by the cruelest way of pain,
Had bidden him to his bosom once again;
The awful sin remained still unforgiven.
All night a bright and solitary star
(Perchance the one that ever guided him,
Yet gave him up at last to Fate's wild whim)
Hugh pitifully o'er the swinging char.
Day dawned, and soon the mixed crowds came to view
The ghastly body swaying in the sun:
The women thronged to look, but never a one
Showed sorrow in her eyes of steely blue;
And little lads, lynchers that were to be,
Danced round the dreadful thing in fiendish glee.

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