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Quote of the Day: A Gruesome Lynching Most White Americans Know Nothing About

public lynching

By Michael Coard, The Philadelphia Tribune

Exactly 120 years ago on Feb. 7, 1904, which was twenty-two years before the precursor to Black History Month was first celebrated in 1926, one of America’s largest and most gruesome lynching events took place.

As reported in the Los Angeles Herald on Feb. 8, 1904, [52-year-old] Luther Holbert and … [an unnamed woman] were burned at the stake … by a mob of 1,000 [white, mostly Christian] persons …. [in Doddsville, Mississippi and it occurred] in the shadow of the negro church here.”

And as documented by Equal Justice Initiative, a pro bono litigation organization headed by prominent civil rights attorney Bryan Stevenson, “According to an eyewitness account published in the Vicksburg, Mississippi Evening Post, Mr. Holbert and the unnamed Black woman were tied to trees while the funeral pyres were prepared. They were then forced to hold out their hands and watch as their fingers were chopped off, one at a time, and distributed as souvenirs. Next, the same was done to their ears. Mr. Holbert was then beaten so badly that his skull was fractured and one of his eyes hung by a shred from the socket. The lynch mob next used a large corkscrew to bore into the arms, legs, and bodies of the two victims [while they were still alive and fully conscious], pulling out large pieces of raw flesh. The victims reportedly did not cry out, and they were finally thrown on the fire and … burn[ed] to death. The event was described as a festive atmosphere, in which the … spectators enjoyed deviled eggs … [and] lemonade ….”

Stop and pause for a few seconds and think about what those deviled-egg-eating devils did. Imagine that Black man and woman’s absolute terror and excruciating pain.

Whenever you think you’ve heard the worst of America’s gruesomely nightmarish racist brutality, you often find out that it’s much worse than you had imagined.

Oh, and by the way, only one person- a man named C. C. Eastland- among the 1,000 was ever arrested. But on Sept. 22, 1904, a judge summarily dismissed all charges.

Also, I should mention that the person who led that lynch mob was James Eastland who had a son also named James Eastland. That son later became Mississippi’s longest-serving United States Senator and spent his entire political career virulently opposing every civil rights bill introduced in Congress.

As pointed out by the NAACP, “From 1882 to 1968, [there were] 4,743 lynchings … in the United States … . The highest number of lynchings during that time period occurred in Mississippi, with 581 recorded” and two of them were Holbert and the unnamed woman.

As noted in the seminal Black’s Law Dictionary, which is used daily by law professors, judges, lawyers and law students all across the country, lynching is defined as “the action of unofficial persons … who seize [someone] … suspected of crimes … and inflict summary punishment upon them ….” Accordingly, the last official lynching (that the public is aware of based on what has been published in major media outlets) was just four years ago- during Black History Month- on February 23, 2020 when 25-year-old Ahmaud Arbery in Satilla Shores, Ga. was hunted down and shot to death.

You would think that this country had long ago outlawed lynching based on what happened from 1882-1968 (and earlier), but it didn’t. In fact, it wasn’t until March 29, 2022- less than two years ago with the enactment of the Emmett Till Anti-Lynching Act- that lynching became a federal crime for the first time ever.

The Lynching in America Website

Bruce Gerencser, 66, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 45 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist.

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  1. Avatar
    The DutchGuy

    This is so grim I can’t bring myself to share it. My ancestors were burned at the stake for heresy, essentially official lynchings, just for saying something disapproved about the church of Rome. How on earth any Catholics remained in the entire Netherlands is evidence how insidious religious mythology really is. The madness is so incorrigible the country remained Christian after freeing itself from the occupiers, becoming primarily Protestant but for the south with it’s many Spaniards.

    My best friend from law school (now deceased) was black and one of the brightest students I knew. He compiled a useful outline of 13 Bar subjects while going thru school. It’s what got me thru it. Thanks Marvin. I miss you. Bryan Stevenson is a person I admire so much I almost wish I could be him. Being from Williams county you know for sure I’m white.

  2. Avatar

    Lynching is just me horrid part of black history that no one wants to face or talk about. It might make white kids feel bad and it might make them ask their parents questions that make them uncomfortable.

    There are white people alive today who have actual memories of lynchings. Lynchings which they attended as a “day out”. There are people alive today who were bombing and burning, churches or threatening little girls trying to go to school. There are people alive today who watched their parents do these things and supported them, perhaps even support them today.

    One of my siblings lives in the southern US. When I talk to them about things like this, they get very defensive. My sibling likes to say that people back then didn’t know better or it was just how things were back the and also says we can’t do anything about the past so we might as well move on. To them racism no longer exists and we are doing things right today. They once told me “people just choose to be offended”. Their white privilege is extreme, and is only matched by their extreme ignorance.

    But my sibling is a good, faithful, god loving Baptist who loves everyone………🙄🙄

    • Avatar

      I grew up in Baptist churches in Tennessee. Back in 1973 we attended this little country church and my parents were friends with the pastor’s family. He “allowed” a black family to attend service, and afterwards the church deacons told him to tell the man he could not bring his wife and young son ever again. The next time the family returned the deacons cornered the pastor’s wife in church parking lot and told her they would rape her if she didn’t order her husband to stop blacks from attending the church. Shortly after that the pastor fled the town. This is same church where they taught us in Sunday School that only white people could go to Heaven. This is why I have never attended a church as an adult though I did briefly visit a synagogue and Unitarian church and discovered they were prejudice too each in their own unique ways.

    • Avatar

      I knew such a person in Bryan. I won’t mention his name but he was well known by the fact he ran a cotton gin in Mississippi. He bragged openly about being present at a lynching and that the blacks in town knew it and stayed out of his way. He smirked as he told it and in hindsight, he was credible.

  3. Avatar

    I have distinct memories of my mom shushing my great-grandmother who mentioned a lynching in front of me when I was a child (sometime in the 1970s). I didn’t know what “lynching” meant. My mom sure did, and she would only tell me that white people in the South used to sometimes beat up black people. I had no idea that her explanation for a child’s ears was grossly misrepresenting what actually happened. I didn’t know until just a few years ago how bad things were. My mom, grandparents, great-grandparents – everyone older in my family – lived in the Jim Crow South. My mom attended a segregated public school – she graduated in 1961 and it was still all white despite 1954 Brown v Board of Education ruling. I attended a public school (1976-1980) that was essentially segregated – the white kids were all in “regular” classes,and the black kids were in a separate wing of the school in “special education” classes. We were only around the black students at recess outdoors, and we were still segregated to different parts of the yard for the most part. Then I was sent to a fundamentalist Christian school in 1980, a school which was a segregation academy. I was there a few years when a handful of Asian kids and a couple of Latin kids were admitted. I found out a couple of years ago from a friend whose grandfather was on the board of the school that the property for the school was donated by a man who stipulated that NO BLACK students should ever be admitted to the school. This stuff is not new.

  4. Avatar
    MJ LIsbeth

    This story underscores one of the real tragedies of the “era” of lynching: For every Emmett Till we hear about, there are scores, perhaps hundreds, of others whose names and faces are unknown to most people.

    Also, not all lynchings involved nooses or pyres, and they didn’t all happen in the South. In fact, many weren’t even called “lynchings.” An example I remember very vividly took place in Brooklyn, New York in 1989. In the then-Italian-American enclave of Bensonhurst, a young man was dumped by his girlfriend who, the story went, hooked up with a Black man. A 17-year-old boy from East New York, a mostly-Black Brooklyn neighborhood a few miles, but light-years, away, came into the neighborhood to look at a used car for sale.

    The jilted young man gathered a bunch of his equally-aimless young, White male friends. Together, they descended upon the Black teenager and beat him to death with baseball bats. The story made worldwide headlines and Spike Lee dedicated his film about Malcolm X to the memory of the young lynching victim: Yusuf Hawkins.

    One reason I remember it so vividly is that I grew up only a mile from where that vicious attack took place. The perpetrators looked, talked and dressed like kids I knew. And their friends, parents and neighbors denounced, not the perps, but Yusuf. “What was he doing here at that time of night?” (9;00 pm), they wondered. And some even saw it as “payback” for the attack, a couple of months earlier, on the Central Park jogger, for which five Black teenagers were exonerated decades later. (That they were convicted for a crime they didn’t commit is, to me, another kind of lynching.)

    A few months later, I met his grandfather. I could see that he didn’t want to hear an apology, in part because it would have meant nothing coming from me. I simply held his hand for a moment and offered to help in whatever way I could. He didn’t take me up on my offer, but I think he knew I meant it.

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