At Balloon Juice, blogger Dennis G. links to a 2007 letter written by the Southern Poverty Law Center asking the FBI to investigate the unsolved murders of dozens of African Americans killed during Jim Crow. For each of the 74 unsolved murders, the SPLC offers a brief summary of the case. Here are a few:
Banks, Isadore – Marion, Ark., 1954 Banks’ charred corpse was found chained to a tree. Black press reports speculated he was
killed by whites who wanted his land. His property was later rented by white farmers.
Bolden, Larry – Chattanooga, Tenn., 1958 Fifteen-year-old Bolden was shot by a white policeman. No arrests were made.
Brazier, James – Dawson City, Ga., 1958 Brazier was beaten to death in front of his wife and children by two police officers. County
Sheriff Z.T. Matthews was later quoted in the Washington Post saying, “There’s nothing like fear to keep niggers in line.”
Daniels, Woodrow Wilson – Water Valley, Miss., 1958 Sheriff Buster Treloar, identified by four witnesses as the man who beat Daniels to death in
a prison, was freed in 23 minutes by an all-white jury. “By God,” Treloar said after the trial. “Now I can get back to rounding up bootleggers and damn niggers.”
If you want an inkling of what life was like for black people during this reign of terror, it's worth reading each of these excerpts. When Shirley Sherrod spoke about the murder of her father by a local sheriff, she wasn't exaggerating. Simply put, the Jim Crow South was a place where white people could murder blacks without reason or consequence. According to statistics compiled by the Tuskegee Institute, there were 3,437 recorded lynchings of blacks between 1888 and 1962, to say nothing of the regular killings or routine assaults on prosperous black communities. This gets obscured in our completely inane "discussions" of race, but for the better part of a century, state-sanctioned terrorism was the norm for millions of African Americans.
I think of this basic fact of African American life whenever Glenn Beck says something like, "We have turned into the 1950s overnight, except the races are reversed," or when Fox News anchors view Breitbart's distorted clip of Sherrod's speech and suggest that "perhaps everyone needs a refresher course on what racism looks like." When it comes down to it, the most frustrating thing about conservative race-baiting is that it minimizes the suffering of the countless African Americans, known and unknown, who were victims of white supremacist violence.
-- Jamelle Bouie