A powerful, memorable story from history to similar stories of today
Five years ago, in 2015, a black Mississippi judge, Judge Carlton Reeves, read aloud in his courtroom.
To three men he was about to sentence a breathtaking personal account of race hatred in Mississippi. It would take several minutes to read. So he asked the three accused to be seated while he read it to them.
In 1940, when I was born, the lynching of Lloyd Clay here in Vicksburg was still fresh in the memory of people I knew and would hear from. It had taken place just 21 years prior in 1919 and a few blocks away from where I was born and have lived most of my life.
I can’t recall how I first heard the story or how old I was at the time. But I don’t ever remember not knowing.
That brutal and barbarous lynching of a young black man, a stutterer, falsely accused of raping a white woman, is archived wherever you look, in the pages of this paper that reported it; in the pages of The New York Times that ran it; in the funeral records of the local white funeral home that buried what was left of him here; in the written record of St. Mary’s history called “Seventy Septembers”; and in the heartrending message of Monsignor Prendergast, then the pastor of St. Paul’s Catholic Church, who stood in front of his congregation on the following Sunday to tell them that anyone who had taken part in that lynching, or even witnessed it, was guilty of murder and mortal sin.
It’s all there.
Now, more than a full century later, in Minnesota, not Mississippi, another black man has died from the knee of a white cop on his windpipe for fully eight minutes while he was begging to breathe.
A young black man, Harvard graduate and passionate bird-watcher was accused by a white woman in New York of threatening her life because he asked her to leash her dog in an area of the park where unleashed dogs were prohibited.
Now, in this courtroom in 2015, these three young white men accused of maiming and murdering a black man in a joy outing were made to listen to this judge. One had accosted a young black man, Mr. James Craig Anderson, in a parking lot, a gifted tenor, beaten him, and run over him back and forth in a truck to display both his hatred of blacks and his belief in white supremacy. This had happened in 2011, and for four full years afterward, all of that time, justice was delayed.
But in 2015, they entered into Judge Reeves’ courtroom for sentencing. And this is what they heard him say. Please read it; please keep it; please pass it on to your children: https://www.npr.org/sections/codeswitch/2015/02/12/385777366/a-black-mississippi-judges-breathtaking-speech-to-three-white-murderers
As well as the plea of Mr. Anderson’s family not to impose the death penalty on his murderers.
Those who first told me of the Lloyd Clay lynching hoped I wouldn’t see anything like that in my life. I will be 80 this month, and I just don’t know.
Thank you, Virginia, for sending me this.
Yolande Robbins is a community columnist for The Vicksburg Post.