Honoring Their Names
Like the Viet Nam Memorial in Washington, the names hooked my attention at the National Memorial for Peace and Justice.
“The Lynching Memorial” honors more than 4,400 African American men, women, and children who were hanged, burned alive, shot, drowned, and beaten to death by white mobs between 1877 and 1950. Their names are inscribed on 800 corten steel monuments, one for each county where a documented lynching took place. They are a silent reminder of helpless victims who dangled from trees or bridges while white crowds mocked their suffering. The names bear witness to the awesome power of the sinful ideology of “white supremacy. ”
At first, the monuments hang at eye level, but as you make your way down the sloping floor, they hang higher above you. By the time I found Florida, my neck was sore from looking up…a minuscule hint of the pain in the necks of the victims who the monuments represent.
Weeping for Absalom
Providentially, the Old Testament reading for last Sunday was the tragic story of David’s son, Absalom, who was killed as he dangled by his hair from the branch of an oak tree. (2 Samuel 18:9-15) In one of the most gut-wrenching scenes in scripture, “The king trembled. He went up to the room over the gate and cried. As he went, he said, “Oh, my son Absalom! Oh, my son! My son Absalom! If only I had died instead of you! Oh, Absalom, my son! My son!” (2 Samual 18:33)
In the silence, I heard the gut-wrenching cry of the parents of every person whose name is listed there. I could hear Mary’s cry as her son dangled between heaven and earth at Golgotha. I heard a finite echo of the infinite cry of the almighty God who weeps over the way the sin of racism continues to work its deadly damage our lives and our culture.
But the memorial doesn’t leave the injustice of racism in the past.
The Legacy Museum, located in a warehouse where slaves were held until they went to the auction block, links the dark reality of the past with the darkness among us today. It’s the virulent flow of bigotry and injustice that runs like an every flowing stream through our history and leads tragically to the Oval Office.
Is the President a Racist?
I’ve agreed and disagreed with every President in my memory, but I never imagined that I would hear that question. However you answer it, the evidence is that the President’s words, behavior and policies have unleashed the ugly strain of racism that still lurks beneath the surface of our culture. For too many people, making American great again means making American white again. The reemergence of the KKK is the extremist fringe of the more subtle expressions of racism that infect our lives and our politics today.
As we followed the Civil Rights Trail, I’ve been rereading Taylor Branch’s Pulitzer Prize winning history of the movement, Parting the Waters. Again I found myself asking if I might have been among the good, faithful, bible-believing white people who stood around the lynching tree out of fear or the feeling that there was nothing they could do. When the history of my life has been written, I want to know that I had done my little bit to help us move toward “a more perfect union” in which every person — black, white, Hispanic, Asian, immigrant, native-born — can experience “liberty and justice for all.”
Along the way,