Lynching and Terrorism

by Phil Porter

The Cross and the Lynching TreeBetween 1880 and 1940, more than 3400 African-Americans were lynched in the United States. This was an overt form of terrorism practiced with all-too-frequent regularity in this very country.

The insidious effectiveness of any strategy that relies on pointed and specific harm is that it hurts and kills some people and it instills fear in the hearts of many, many more. This reality is well known by anyone who practices acts of terrorism.

The threat that anyone senses as the result of the assault or murder of others is direct and powerful. As human beings, we actually have difficulty distinguishing between what is happening to others and what is happening to us. “If it can happen to them, it can happen to me.” When we identify directly with a victim of terrorism, the effect is compounded. “It is happening to them; it is happening to me.” If any particular group is singled out as the target of terrorism, all the members of that group are vulnerable to fear for their own safety.

In this current time, we suffer the effects of different kinds of terrorism. The strategy is the same as that used by the lynch mob. Although lynchings are not of this time, the experience that many have today in relation to terrorism should serve as a way of understanding what African-Americans went through during the lynching years and even experience today. It should increase both our compassion for those who suffered and our outrage that it ever happened.

The afteraffects of terrorism linger in the system—in individual bodies and in groups. It may take years, decades, even generations to be healed. To hear the stories is to relive them even if they are part of the past. Only by bringing the pain to light, acknowledging it and continuing to condemn it can healing truly happen.

I condemn the outrageous, terrorist acts of lynching that happened in this country. They were outrageous and unconscionable. I pray for those who suffered under threat to their safety and their lives. I reach out a hand of compassion and comfort to those who are still affected by those events today.

The Diversity Ministry Team will be leading an adult education series based on the book The Cross and the Lynching Tree by Dr. James Cone on July 8, 15 & 21, 2012, after the 10 am worship service. More about this series…

About communicationsfccb

Phil Porter is the Minister of Art & Communication at First Congregational Church of Berkeley and a member of the Diversity Ministry Team. All members of this ministry team will be contributing to this blog.
This entry was posted in justice, racial identity and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to Lynching and Terrorism

  1. Maggie Kast says:

    Excellent post. I’m using a bit of that history and specifically the attempt at legal lynching in Scottsboro as part of a novel I’m just finishing. 1930’s persecution of gays and lesbians also palys a role.

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