Langston Hughes wrote this poem for Robert F. Williams as a New Years greeting and published it in The Panther and the Lash (1967). Nina Simone set it to music and recorded it [mp3] on 'Nuff Said (1968).
Though it ruins the poetry, change "Vietnam" to "Iraq," and the line about taxes, and you've got a song for Winston Carter and the United States in 2004.
I try to follow the little bits of discussion on blogs, live journals, and discussion boards about this story. I can't say I'm surprised, but still it's bothers me when I see some people say it couldn't be a lynching, that such things don't really happen anymore.
But what really bothers me is that this is what the Southern Poverty Law Center has to say about it, too. It's what they said to one of my contacts in Montgomery, who called them the first day Winston Carter's death came to light, and it's what Mark Potok, Director of the SPLC Intelligence Project, said to The American Street's Kevin Hayden when he emailed them about the incident.
From: Mark PotokTo rehash some of what I wrote to Kevin, we wouldn't know that Winston Carter's death had any particularly suspicious appearance if there hadn't been some immediate information gathering by Scott B. I went on to say that Mark Potok is operating on two fallacies. From my email:
Sent: Friday, August 27, 2004 8:29 AM
We don't have any independent information about this death, although if it begins to look particularly suspicious, we will start to gather some.
I would caution you very strongly about leaping to the conclusion that this was a "lynching," or even a murder. In the last three years or so, there have been a very large number of rumors, which have been passed about as fact on a very wide basis, that black men (often after supposedly dating white women) were "lynched," and that their murders were covered up by law enforcement. To date, I know of no case where this has proven to be the truth. Despite the fact that Jesse Jackson has widely publicized one of these cases (Kokomo, Miss.), in each case all the solid evidence has pointed to suicide (in the Kokomo case, the family was convinced to have THREE autopsies, each one of which indicated suicide, Jackson's opinions notwithstanding). I even heard the maker of one of the two recent documentaries about Emmett Till saying on national radio that he knew for a fact that 81 men had been lynched in Mississippi in the last three years, and the cops had covered up each one. Eighty-one! That WOULD be a lot. Again, I know the blog you directed me to claimed to have information about the shoelaces and so on, but this is precisely the kind of information that circulated about some of the other recent cases (in Mississippi and Florida) and in each case I know about, it has proved in the end to be false. I'm not saying that that's the case in Tuskegee, but again, I would warn you against assuming these are murders simply because they occurred in the Deep South. In a large number of the cases that are flatly described by some as proven "lynchings," the local sheriff or police chief has been black -- which immediately casts some doubt on the theory that they're involved in some massive conspiracy to cover up a spate of supposed lynchings.
I don't dismiss any possibility in the Tuskegee case, but I think it's prudent to have a lot more FACTS before going public with allegations of lynchings, murders, or anything of that sort.
I hope this explains our thinking on this. Thanks for writing, and thanks for your interest in these matters. We appreciate them!
The first fallacy involves not allowing for just how profoundly deep seated and how pervasive racist violence was in the "old" south. I think when you read enough about just how bad it was (ever read about a place called Monroe, North Carolina?) and about how total the collusion was among local, state and federal law enforcement (i.e. FBI) . . . it's hard to imagine that all that stuff went away just because some white business owners agreed to let black folks eat lunch and work at their places of business. The second fallacy is that the presence of black person in a position of power, say as Sheriff, like in Tuskegee, "immediately casts some doubt on the theory that they're involved in some massive conspiracy to cover up a spate of supposed lynchings." That's some pretty simple minded analysis if you ask me.Monroe, North Carolina was where Robert F. Williams had been President of a local NAACP chapter in the 1950s. Read about his struggle there, and you'll see Monroe was a place where non-violent resistance was not an option.
In the aftermath of the 1963 protests in Birmingham, where the Southern Christian Leadership Conference staged one of its most famous victories,
the police department attempted to return to the status quo of race relations. Police chief Jamie Moore responded to the civil disorders by purchasing "100 riot type (military) 12 gauge pump shotguns" . . . During June and July of 1963, officers reexerted their control over the black community. Yet the brutal response to the protest marches compromised the authority of the police. Through force, policemen kept the poor and desperate elements of the community in line. For black people in Birmingham this force often meant "justifiable homicide." On June 28, a policeman killed Blaine Gordon Jr., a seventeen-year-old black male. On July 6, a detective shot, but did not kill, thirty-three-year-old Johnny Patterson, also black. On August 4, an officer killed James Scott Jr., age thirty-five, another black male. The ease with which policemen shot and killed black men reflected a pathology within Birmingham's law enforcement that contributed to future racial crises. (Glenn T. Eskew, But for Birmingham: The Local and National Movements in the Civil Rights Struggle, 313-14)Without specific intervention to remedy the pathological racism amongst police, how can anyone expect there to have been real change? Just because the manifestation of a pathology changes doesn't mean it's gone away.
I don't know enough about the other cases Potok mentions to argue about them one way or another, but to insinuate, as he does, that eyewitnesses who viewed the terrible spectacle of Winston Carter's death fell prey to some sort of group psychosis is insensitive and condescending. I would like to know when exactly this death will begin to look "particularly suspicious."
In Highways to Nowhere, Wallace Roberts recalls:
Forty years ago, at the first memorial service for the three civil rights workers [Chaney, Goodman and Schwerner], held just a few days after the Gulf of Tonkin incident that marked the beginning of the Vietnam War, Bob Moses, the head of the summer project, said simply, "The same kind of racism that killed these three young men is going to kill thousands of Vietnamese."Make your substitutions, as above, in "Backlash Blues." Here is, indeed, a strange and bitter crop.
"Backlash Blues" manuscript image from: Congress. Senate Committee on the Judiciary. Subcommittee to Investigate the Administration of the Internal Security Act and other Internal Security Laws. Testimony of Robert F. Williams. Washington, D.C.: GPO, 1970. See African American Involvement in the Vietnam War.