Can we call the killings of thousands of African Americans acts of terrorism? Yes we can, and we should.
The Equal Justice Initiative (EJI) just released “Lynching in America: Confronting the Legacy of Racial Terror“, a report which documents lynching in twelve Southern states during the period between Reconstruction and World War II.
EJI researchers documented 3959 racial terror lynchings of African Americans in Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, and Virginia between 1877 and 1950.
From The Crime Report:
Lynching in America makes the case that lynching of African Americans was terrorism, a widely supported phenomenon used to enforce racial subordination and segregation.
Noting that entire communities of whites sometimes witnessed the crimes, and treated them as entertainment—packing picnic lunches and collecting souvenirs from victims’ bodies—the report aims to spotlight lynchings’ lingering effects on blacks and on a criminal justice system still adversely shaped by race, said attorney Bryan Stevenson, the justice initiative’s founder and executive director.
The New York University Law School professor said: “The narrative of racial justice needs to change. We’ve gone too long without talking about how we got to Ferguson, how we got to Staten Island … Slavery didn’t end, it just evolved …
¿What makes this report so relevant and important today? Is not just the recent disheartening and disturbing large number of unarmed black people being killed by police. Or the alarming disparity in the treatments of black vs. white criminal suspects. It’s also about the blatant attempts to “clean up” history and the way we teach it in our schools.
As recently as last September, Colorado students protested curriculum changes in AP History directed towards a “more positive” view of American History. The new curriculum proposal stated:
Materials should promote citizenship, patriotism, essentials and benefits of the free enterprise system, respect for authority and respect for individual rights. Materials should not encourage or condone civil disorder, social strife or disregard of the law. Instructional materials should present positive aspects of the United States and its heritage.
And in 2010, a Texas school board approved controversial textbook changes “watering down” the role of slavery in the Civil War.
So yes, calling the lynchings of African Americans acts of terrorism is historically accurate and we must start teaching it as such.