OPINION: Lynchings in Mississippi paper underscores the need for adult, continuing Black education

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The war over teaching about America’s racist history continues, not just unabated but often at an accelerated pace. It is as if white supremacists are on their last leg in a desperate attempt to retain power and control through miseducation. Therefore, in this war not all politicians or scholars can be followed unquestionably. Intentionally or unintentionally, Black people cannot afford to be misled. 

For the “History is Lunch” session last week, retired University of Mississippi professor, Dr. T.J. Ray, presented a paper entitled “No Legal Defense: Contemporary Accounts of Mississippi Lynchings, 1835 – 1964.” A goodly number of Black people had come out to hear what the scholar had to say about lynchings in Mississippi. The session was going over fairly well until the presenter seemed to cut the presentation short in order to allow more time for questions and answers.

At that point, several members of the audience raised questions which threw things out of kelter. It began with the simple question of how many lynchings had occurred during the period in question. Ray’s response was that there were different definitions of what was meant by a lynching. While that is true, one would have expected him to then give the definition and justification which he was using. This he did not do, but proceeded to give a figure of 654. 

Secondly, after having made the point that there were white lynch victims among the accounts on which he reported, he did not respond to the question of how many or what percentage of the victims were white. As close as he came to an answer was to indicate that there were more lynchings in the Delta region, Hinds County, and Lauderdale County – all heavily Black populated – than other parts of the state and that more occurred between 1875 and 1925, the time period of greatest terrorism directed against Black political participation in the state and the south in general.

Thirdly, there was criticism of the fact that he had consulted only white newspapers in his research, despite the tremendously large number of articles on lynching in Black periodicals such as the Chicago Defender, the Pittsburg Courier, Jet magazine, and Ebony magazine. One member of the audience went as far as to categorize the effort as “revisionist history,” akin to past attempts to re-write Black history and the current attack on critical race theory. Still another member indicated that Ray failed to consider the sensitivities of persons who had been affected by lynchings. 

Despite those criticisms, there were positive aspects of the presentation. (1) Ray confirmed that multitudes of white citizens, including political leaders and police officers, were not just supportive of, but involved in many of the lynchings. (2) He revealed that Christian churches did not condemn the violence. (3) He agreed that many of the lynchings were initiated because of accusations of a white woman being raped, but had often been consensual affairs. (4) He confirmed that local KKK members generally did not “dress out” to lead the lynchings. (5) He confirmed that seldom was anybody arrested or indicted for these murders. 

In each case, he seems to have been on the right side of the equation. The negatives of the presentation, however, outweighed the positives to such an extent that many Black audience members left the session terribly disappointed and critical.

In addition to those emotions, this writer felt a determination to continue broadcasting the idea that there needs to be well-developed and executed adult education programs that can provide African American parents, care-givers, mentors, and would-be educators with an accurate and in-depth of knowledge of African history and America’s history as it relates to Black people. 

Joining forums such as History is Lunch, the public schools’ in-service workshops need to either take up such initiatives on their own or be pressured into doing so by students, teachers, and the general public. 

In addition, historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs) should develop adult education programs promoting the history and culture of African American people. HBCUs should recognize it as a part of their very reason for being and as a service obligation to the public. 

In the larger society, African American controlled media, public radio and television programming, civil rights organizations, and churches need either to begin or to rigorously accelerate “education” components addressing the real attacks being waged against critical race theory. These attacks’ purpose is to stop the teaching of Black history, both African and African American. 

In short, adults need to be adequately prepared and willing to engage this war along with and for their children. They cannot afford to leave it up to others to do for them. 

The “History is Lunch” session last week just helped to re-affirm that reality. 

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OPINION: Lynchings in Mississippi paper underscores the need for adult, continuing Black education

By Dr. Ivory Phillips
September 5, 2023