On crucifixion and lynching, part 1
Belfast, N. Ireland
(DISCLAIMER: Graphic details of sexualized violence and images of lynching contained herein.)
Yesterday I attended a seminar my professor David Tombs gave at ISE, at which he read a paper he is presenting today at a conference in Chicago. The paper is looking at the new book The Cross and the Lynching Tree from black theologian James Cone, under whom David studied at Union Theological Seminary. I wanted to offer just a few musings on some of his thoughts.
In his book, Cone writes how black artists in the United States saw a direct relation between crucifixion and lynching. In fact, they would suggest that the image of an innocent black man being lynched was the closest one could get to understanding the crucifixion of Christ. Naturally, at the time, most white theologians kept silent about lynching. David’s research has been mainly focused on the issue of torture and sexualized violence, and most recently he has studied crucifixion in this light. David’s assertion is that while Cone does a brilliant job drawing correlations between crucifixion and lynching, he does not go far enough in his comparisons as he failed to address fully the issue of sexualized violence applicable to both.
The horrors of lynching were profoundly sexualized. David discussed two examples. The first is the story of Sam Hose who was lynched by a mob in Georgia in 1899. A horde of angry whites tied him up, and sliced his ears sliced off. They then severed each of his fingers, removed the skin from his face, and passed a blade between his thighs, cutting off his genitals which were then held aloft for the crowd to see. The mob doused him in kerosene, strapped him to a tree, and set him on fire – alive.
The second story was of Emmett Till who was lynched while visiting Mississippi in 1955 at the age of 14. He was accused of whistling at a young white girl and was beaten so badly in the head his face was nearly unrecognizable. At his funeral in Chicago, his mother insisted on leaving the casket open for all to see the disfigured swollen face of her young son. Emmett too had been castrated and his tongue cut and pushed back in his mouth.
Another story that comes to mind is that of Jesse Washington, a 17-year old mentally retarded farmhand who confessed to raping and killing a white woman. He was castrated, mutilated, and burned alive in front of a cheering crowd. The mayor and chief of police were among the amused spectators.
(And another horrible example of lynching was of a black man who was wrapped in a chain and roasted alive over a fire. When he tried to climb up the chain, his white murderers sliced off each of his fingers and then raised and lowered him into the fire until his skin was crisp.)
White men often lynched black men as they claimed they were threats to innocent white women. If a black man raped or had consensual sex with a white woman, one could almost guarantee a lynching was soon to come and castration would be included. Note: the rape of black women by white men nearly always went unpunished.
Such stories as these make me feel sick to be a white man.