Friday, December 10, 2010

Some things should not be forgotten.

"And some things that should not have been forgotten were lost. History became legend, legend became myth ..."
(Galadriel, LOTR)

(Warning: the images contained in the first link could be considered too graphic; I know that my dad was unable to access it at work.)

This semester our history-the United States history-has been made painfully real. Things that should never have been forgotten are now not spoken of; a past that contained bloody secrets has been remembered as an era of glory.

This is a website dedicated to remembering the lynchings that took place in the United States for 100 years, starting with the end of the Civil War. Almost every state could boast a lynching, or, as it was also referred to, a "black barbecue". People made postcards of the pictures taken of the hanged black people, many of whom had been tortured with the aim of producing exquisite pain. It was a point of pride to have attended a lynching.

This is a video of Billie Holiday singing a poem that had been written about the black lynchings, called "Strange Fruit". This is the actual poem.

The United States was never made to fully face what it had done to the black race. While I do not believe that we should be held responsible for the actions of previous generations, neither do I think that the atrocities committed should be swept under the rug and put out of sight. As George Santayana said, "Those who do not remember the past are condemned to repeat it."

***If you have any reaction to the information presented, please feel free to leave a comment. When I mentioned to my professor of Civil War history that I was thinking of doing this post he expressed interest in knowing the reactions I got. I am aware that the American Civil War is still an issue that can provoke extreme emotion, so I would request that all responses be civil.


Malcolm (Grai/Fal) said...

I agree that ones history is a value point to be remembered; if for nothing else to be a point to say I will try not to become that person/country again. I am also saddened that I can see why one must ask for civility in response to this post. I guess my response to your professor would be this. "If we can not agree that something is bad. Just bad, not caused by X, just at its core to be wrong. Then how can we ever come together to move forward."

Phil Kelly said...

While he can be somewhat over-the-top at times, I've found that Tim Wise is generally really well spoken and insightful when it comes to the issues of race and white privilege.

To paraphrase something he's pointed out, no, obviously we aren't responsible for what our ancestors did. On the other hand, whites today in America absolutely benefit from the system that explicitly favored them at the expense of everyone else for centuries (and unfortunately still does today, though nowhere near as intentionally or obviously as in the past), and it's therefore our responsibility to do something about it.

I think "blame" is nearly always the wrong thing to be talking about, anyway. What matters is recognizing unfairness and doing whatever possible to fix it.

(and for a list of cited instances of problems in the current system with regards to race, Wise has a good (and overly provocatively titled) post at

Phil Kelly said...

On a somewhat related note, I remembered NPR doing a feature recently on that, so I looked up the link: