|Katherine Stewart, "Eighty-One Percent of White Evangelicals Voted for Donald Trump. Why?"|
May 1927: my mother was nearly five years old, living 25 miles south of Little Rock. In that year and month, the last lynching (up to today, that is — who knows what the future holds for us now?) occurred in my hometown of Little Rock.
There was mob hysteria about the murder of a little white girl whose body had just been found hanging in the belfry of a Presbyterian church. In the midst of the mass hysteria, a white woman and her daughter reported that a black man had jumped into a wagon carrying them into town, menacing them.
A mob formed, seized a mentally challenged black man named John Carter whom it wanted to hold responsible for the incident, and brought him into the city, hanging him from a telephone pole and then repeatedly firing shots into his body. The body was taken down and, in acts of unthinkable barbarism, tied to a car and dragged through the city, then burned in the heart of the black business community, as 5,000 white people rioted, burned churches and businesses, and cut off pieces of the charred corpse for souvenirs.
When police arrived on the scene, they found a man directing traffic with Carter's charred arm, which had been snapped from the corpse. As with most lynchings everywhere in the U.S. up to this period, people took photographs and sold them as postcards afterwards.
As in lynching after lynching after lynching throughout the U.S., no one was ever charged with any crime after these barbaric acts occurred. No one was held responsible.
That was 1927. Then came the 1950s and 1960s through which I lived, which I myself remember, when there were other acts of horrific violence against African-American citizens — e.g., bombing of a church in Birmingham in which children attending Sunday School were murdered. In my own town, a black teenaged boy sitting on a porch was murdered in my final year of school by three of my white high school classmates.
Those three classmates were exonerated of the murder.
Why drag up all this sordid history? Why bring up the past? Because it quite simply is not the past.
As all this took place in the 1920s and then the 1950s and 1960s, the white evangelical churches of my state, who dominate its religious life and culture, did nothing. They said nothing. They in no way stood up to try to stop the violence. The people engaging in the violence were, the vast majority of them, members of white evangelical churches.
And how do I know this? Because I belonged to one of those churches. Because my family roots lie in those churches. I left my family's Southern Baptist church in the mid-1960s in large part because it refused to take any stand against racist violence in those years, and for civil rights — because it split down the middle when we voted whether we wanted even to accept black church members.
These churches were, in their day and time, the 81 percenters who just elected Donald Trump while claiming to be motivated above all by "pro-life" concerns, and who want to tell us now that they had no racist motivation at all in casting their votes for Trump, that they do not have a racist bone in their bodies. Who want us to forget history and how their churches have behaved in my very own lifetime . . . .
Who want to pretend that they have now had some major conversion experience and have turned away from racism, while their members vote for Donald Trump, who employed overt racism in campaigning for the White House . . . . Who have not only stood by in silence as LGBTQ people have been attacked, demeaned, their lives made precarious for years now, but who have egged on the attacks . . . .
As William Faulkner said, the past is never dead, and is not even the past. My white evangelical relatives and fellow citizens in Arkansas who want to convince all of us that they have turned over a new leaf in the book of American racism also want us to forget the history through which some of us have actually lived and can remember with great clarity.
I refuse to forget.