James decided to walk home from the gathering. The small town of Jasper, Texas was home. James knew the roads and people well. When a pickup truck pulled up next to James he wasn’t worried. He knew Shawn, the driver, from around town. He was less acquainted with the other two young men in the truck. In a town of 7,500 that knows no stranger, James climbed in the truck and accepted the ride home. James was black. The crew in the truck were white. James never made it home.
Shawn drove the pickup away from James’ house. Instead he drove James to a quiet country road far from anywhere anyone would be at that hour. Once in a secluded area the three men pulled a frightened and confused James from the truck. They dragged him into a field.
The three men began beating, kicking, and pummeling James until he bled. One of the men had a can of spray paint. He blasted James’ face, eyes, and mouth with the harsh chemical. The men then took turns urinating and defecating on James as he struggled to make sense of his situation. He pled with his attackers.
The suffering was only beginning for James. The three men then carried him back toward the truck where they wrapped a heavy logging chain around James’ ankles and attached the chain to the hitch of the truck. They dragged James along a country road at a high speed.
The autopsy of James revealed he was still alive as his body slid across the asphalt. Multiple areas on James’ body were impacted indicating James was turning and rolling to try to escape the pain. The bones in James elbows where ground down from trying to pull his upper body from the pavement.
The end came when the truck began swerving. James was slung off to the road where his body slammed into a metal culvert. James was decapitated but the murderers weren’t done. They gathered James’ mutilated remains and left them on display in front of a black church to be found by parishioners at morning light before worship.
This story is true. However, this lynching didn’t happen in the early 1900’s or even the 1960’s.
James Byrd Jr. was lynched at 49-years-old on June 7, 1998.
It is difficult to conclude an exact number, as many lynchings in America occurred in the dark of night under the veil of anonymity. Most estimates suggest a conservative number is more than 4,700. More than 4,700 humans have been executed violently on American soil because of the color of their skin.
It is a common misconception that these horrendous murders all occurred south of the Mason-Dixon line. That is not true. Indiana alone has seen 19 lynchings in 12 different counties. The blood of 19 black hoosiers poured into the soil of the heartland. Most of these victims have not been given the dignity of even a headstone.
I implore you to take a moment of your time. Explore the interactive Lynching in America Map curated by the Equal Justice Initiative at https://lynchinginamerica.eji.org/explore. Read the story of a lynching near you. Learn the name of the victim. Then do research to find out what, if anything, has been done to remember this victim of racial terrorism. Is there a headstone, historical marker, or nothing at all?
If there is nothing to honor this victim work with your local legislature or your state historical society to erect a historical marker.
We are called by Christ to treat each of his children the same way we would want to be treated in life and in death. Let us look to the future while never forgetting that racial hate, at its worst, can plunge humanity to dark depths that result in unspeakable generational suffering.