Yolanda Spivey: Let’s Not Forget that Black Women Were Lynched Too
By Yolanda Spivey
I am a big advocate on telling young Black children the horrors and atrocities that Black people faced while living in America. I feel if they know their history, they are less likely to repeat it. Unfortunately, many of our young ones don’t know their history, and Black children’s lives are in a dismal state which is reflected in the ever increasing prison population and songs that are produced in mass media.
Recently, I ran across the website www.henriettavintondavis.com and was taken back to tears at the sight of Black women hanging from trees at the turn of the 20th century. They apparently had been lynched. It sickened me to see their bodies on display as White people made a mockery of their murders.
Once these women were hung, White men and women would stop by to observe the “exhibition.” They often made it a family event, bringing their children along to look at the dead bodies as they swayed in the wind on Southern and Midwestern trees. They would even take pictures of the hanging bodies and put them on post cards and mail messages to their friends.
Further, lynchings were often advertised in newspapers. The body parts of some of the victims, including their genιtalia, were distributed and put on public display.
It has me thinking of Black women’s current situation and how our bodies are still being exhibited and put on display. I immediately thought of Beyonce’s performance at this year’s Grammy Awards. She was scantily clad and sang her popular song “Drunk In Love” accompanied by her husband Jay Z. Afterwards, the mainstream media sort of “lynched” her by labeling her a whοre and tarnishing her image. It didn’t matter that she performed with her husband. It didn’t matter that she was a grown a$$ woman displaying her artistry—all she was to the mainstream media was a whore!
It is estimated that over 5,000 people were lynched in the United States in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. One hundred and fifty of those cases were revealed to be Black women, (it’s suspected that there could’ve been more.)
The case of Mary Turner stood out to me the most. I don’t know why, but as I read the words, it haunted me. Here is her story:
“Mary Turner 1918 Eight Months Pregnant- Mobs lynched Mary Turner on May 17, 1918 in Lowndes County Georgia because she vowed to have those responsible for killing her husband arrested. Her husband was arrested in connection with the shooting and killing Hampton Smith, a white farmer for whom the couple had worked, and wounding his wife. Sidney Johnson a Black man, apparently killed Smith because he was tired of the farmer’s abuse. Unable to find Johnson, the killers lynched eight other Blacks including Hayes Turner and his wife Mary. The mob hanged Mary by her feet, poured gasoline and oil on her and set fire to her body. One white man sliced her open and Mrs. Turner’s baby tumbled to the ground with a “little cry” and the mob stomped the baby to death and sprayed bullets into Mary Turner. (NAACP: Thirty Years of Lynching in the U.S. 1889-1918)”
I posted Mary Turner’s story on my Facebook wall and immediately received a few inboxes from women who said they didn’t know this had happened. Of course they wouldn’t have known—these atrocities are hidden from the public and not taught in school. The internet is wonderful because since its beginning, many people of all nationalities have started to receive grim history lessons on what really happened to Blacks—these stories, many wanted to bury away.
The late great educator Ida B. Wells once said “The way to right wrongs is to turn the light of TRUTH upon them.” And I agree wholeheartedly with her. We must shed light on all the atrocities that befell our ancestors, no matter how sad, grim and ugly they are.
For more stories on the Black women who were lynched, please go to http://henriettavintondavis.wordpress.com/2008/08/01/black-women-who-were-lynched-in-america/