100 years later

I’ve heard enough people in my circles say we live in a post-racial world. And I just want to give a little perspective. Why? Because when we say things like that today, people get hurt. It angers them, and for good reason. People made in the image of God… our brothers and sisters.

Not discounting the certain fact that progress in many areas has been made, we ought not think we’ve finished the race. I love how Deidra Riggs put it earlier today: “…if we were all running a marathon together (and we are) we wouldn’t stop at the one mile marker, look back toward the starting line and say, ‘Wow! Look at how much progress we’ve made! We’ve come so far! Let’s go do something else now.'”

For me, these 2 images when placed together are quite profound.

The first one is from July 2, 1917: a peaceful march in New York City, following a horrific event of injustice in St. Louis earlier that week that should never be forgotten. I unpacked that event more here.
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The other one is from about an hour ago – June 16, 2017, nearly 100 years later. Another peaceful march, this time in Minnesota, following the announcement of the verdict in Officer Yanez’ trial. I didn’t sit on the jury, and I can’t know all the intricacies that went into the reaching of that verdict. But we all saw the Facebook live video. And given the (enormous) track record of oppression from law-enforcement on people of color, the smell of bs here is strong.
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My heart aches for everyone directly involved (including Officer Yanez), and my heart aches for the millions of people who feel the pain of this moment from afar – pain that in many ways I will never be able to feel. I believe we need to pray for those in law enforcement like never before, and I believe we need to pray for minorities just as much.

Can we stand with one without hating the other? I believe we can.

But in the process, may the Lord help us never ever stop asking these gut-wrenching “Why” questions until the stubborn stench of injustice is burnt out of our nostrils for good.

St. Louis Riot, 1917

The story I’m about to share is one I had never heard until I really started looking into #OurHistory through the lens of the African-American experience. It may be new to you as well, so please don’t skip over this. It’s important we all understand and truly listen to what it tells us.

July 2, 1917.

This was right in the heart of the Great Migration, as scores and scores of African Americans fled the South in hopes of a brighter future. Certainly, they were fleeing the terror of the lynch mobs, but the driving force was the hope of better financial opportunities than the subtle (reinvented) slavery of sharecropping. When they arrived North, I wish I could say the experience was different. 

In East St. Louis, labor agents had successfully recruited thousands of black men to work in the city’s aluminum factories. The predominantly white work force was on strike at the time, so the new labor force was brought in to keep production moving. The race card was played on purpose, and as expected, it infuriated the striking workers.

Little skirmishes broke out here and there as the black workers entered the factory, but before long it evolved into open violence throughout much of East St. Louis. The police force, which was largely white, decided to look the other way as those within the black community were assaulted, clubbed, and stabbed. Riots broke out, and when it was all said and done, 9 white people and at least 40 black people died.

“AT LEAST 40…”

The ambiguity there is one of the saddest parts of this story. Many remained unaccounted for after the dust settled. The number was likely far greater, based on eyewitness accounts of black bodies being thrown in ditches and in the Mississippi River, never to be recovered. One of the pictures in this post is an image of the aftermath, the search for bodies among the debris.

The massacre did not go unnoticed.

Just 3 weeks later, the NAACP organized a silent march in NYC, down Fifth Avenue. With only the sound of muffled drums, ten thousand men, women, and children marched from Harlem to Manhattan. No words, no shouting. They carried signs, some of them displaying messages like these:

“Mr. President, why not make America safe for democracy?”

“Mother, do lynchers go to heaven?”

This was a silent protest because it seemed that nobody would hear their cries out loud.

#OurHistory

silent-march-nyc-1917silent-parade-1917Look Back:  East St. Louis Race Riots, 1917st-louis-riot-1917