Three meals from the jungle by @BloggersRUs

Three meals from the jungle

by Tom Sullivan

Public lynching image via

"Man is never more than three meals away from the jungle" (or some variant) is a line I heard once, somewhere long ago, and it never left me. I've not been able to find its source again for years of looking.* It speaks to civilization being the thinnest of veneers, like Man's eye-blink history on planet Earth. The frightening truth is the jungle sometimes is a lot closer than three meals away.

This morning in Montgomery, Alabama, the National Memorial for Peace and Justice opens on a site overlooking the Alabama State Capitol. Inspired by the Holocaust Memorial in Berlin and the Apartheid Museum in Johannesburg, this one remembers the victims of white supremacy, including those who died in over 4,000 lynchings.

The New York Times:

At the center is a grim cloister, a walkway with 800 weathered steel columns, all hanging from a roof. Etched on each column is the name of an American county and the people who were lynched there, most listed by name, many simply as “unknown.” The columns meet you first at eye level, like the headstones that lynching victims were rarely given. But as you walk, the floor steadily descends; by the end, the columns are all dangling above, leaving you in the position of the callous spectators in old photographs of public lynchings.

The magnitude of the killing is harrowing, all the more so when paired with the circumstances of individual lynchings, some described in brief summaries along the walk: Parks Banks, lynched in Mississippi in 1922 for carrying a photograph of a white woman; Caleb Gadly, hanged in Kentucky in 1894 for “walking behind the wife of his white employer”; Mary Turner, who after denouncing her husband’s lynching by a rampaging white mob, was hung upside down, burned and then sliced open so that her unborn child fell to the ground.
No doubt the perpetrators left the jungle for a home-cooked meal afterwards.

The museum recounts story after story of black men and women taken by the jungle in the blink of an eye. Violating the unwritten white supremacist code was deadly:
Lynching emerged as a vicious tool of racial control in the South after the Civil War, as a way to reestablish white supremacy and suppress black civil rights. At the end of the 19th century, Southern lynch mobs targeted and terrorized African Americans with impunity.

Lynching of African Americans was terrorism, a widely supported phenomenon used to enforce racial subordination and segregation. Lynchings were violent and public events that traumatized black people throughout the country and were largely tolerated by state and federal officials. This was not “frontier justice” carried out by a few marginalized vigilantes or extremists. Instead, many African Americans who were never accused of any crime were tortured and murdered in front of picnicking spectators (including elected officials and prominent citizens) for bumping into a white person, or wearing their military uniforms after World War I, or not using the appropriate title when addressing a white person. People who participated in lynchings were celebrated and acted with impunity, purchasing victims' body parts as souvenirs and posing for photographs with hanging corpses to mail to loved ones as postcards.
Bryan Stevenson, founder of the Equal Justice Initiative, leads the nonprofit organization behind the memorial. EJI's mission encompasses "ending mass incarceration and excessive punishment in the United States, to challenging racial and economic injustice, and to protecting basic human rights for the most vulnerable people in American society."

“I’m not interested in talking about America’s history because I want to punish America,” Stevenson explains. “I want to liberate America.”

The Times account continues:
Mr. Stevenson, whose great-grandparents were slaves in Virginia, has written about “just mercy,” the belief that those who have committed serious wrongs should be allowed a chance at redemption. It is a conviction he has spent a career arguing for on behalf of clients, and he believes it is true even for the white America whose brutality is chronicled by the memorial.

“If I believe that each of us is more than the worst thing he’s ever done,” he said, “I have to believe that for everybody.”
How much of the South's fixation on others' sin and damnation is simply ingrained projection, the sublimation of its own legacy of brutality? Indeed, slavery itself has undergone a series of transformations, sublimated beneath a veneer of equality. The museum is testimony, Campbell Robertson writes for the Times, that "the slavery system did not end but evolved: from the family-shattering domestic slave trade to the decades of lynching terror, to the suffocating segregation of Jim Crow to the age of mass incarceration in which we now live."

As if on cue, Think Progress reports this morning The Green Book is back.

* If you should happen to know the source of the quote, please contact me at the address in the sidebar.

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