I want to talk about our history.
On September 25, 1919, the Omaha Bee accused a black man named Will Brown of assaulting “pretty little Anges Loebeck” while she walked home. A few days later, a mob of over 5,000 people assembled outside the jail and demanded the jailers release him to “lynch law.”
When the jailers refused, the mob set the jail on fire and eventually pulled him from the flames, only to knock him unconscious and burn him. He was eventually killed by bullets and rope and burning gas and his body dragged through the streets. Later, pieces of the rope were sold for ten cents each as souvenirs.
For all the talk of honoring our heritage as southerners, I think we should take a moment to remember that story. Even though this story happened in Omaha, the South had more of the same.
96 years later, On June 17, 2015 a white man walked into a bible study, sat there for an hour, and then opened fire. He killed nine black people, each in turn, while breathing hatred for their race. His objective: start a war. He wanted the South to rise again.
But the response was different. This man was neither celebrated nor ignored. His actions were rightly called an act of racial terrorism. But instead of a mob, we are learning to mourn together and instead of lynching we have due process which will end in a conviction and, in some small measure, justice. This is the only way forward. Today, we live in a world where the mob (sometimes) cries for peace.
The South has long been the epicenter of racial tension. Those who came before us participated in violent crimes against people simply because of the color of their skin. We sank to depths of depraved violence and cultural affirmation of racism currently incomprehensible to most Americans.
And through all the violence, the way forward has always been by way of peace. The Civil Rights movement taught us this. I am so very proud of my state and city for responding without looting or further acts of violence and with a heart of unity.
So yes, let’s remember our history. How we lynched people for crimes they were not convicted of and allowed the mob to dictate justice. Let’s remember the children who bought ten cent ropes as souvenirs for a crime, not by fault of their own but because of the sins of their parents. Let’s remember how we as a society systematically oppressed our neighbors in the name of Christianity, rather than love them like Jesus would. And let’s be honest that the same issues that existed then continue in varied form today.
With that basis of honesty, I am optimistic. You see, I believe that out of these depths, the South will rise again. Yes, we will rise to love our neighbor as ourselves. We will rise to end discrimination. We will rise to equal opportunities for education, justice, and freedom for all. We will rise to remove a flag that symbolizes the ongoing struggle for justice in our nation. Because we know our history and the way forward is unity.
Years ago, old men would sit by a campfire and mutter: “the South will rise again” as they anticipated southern resurgence. I can only imagine their surprise to see the South rise again – in love.
P.S. Astute readers of the scripture will notice that this trajectory is a re-telling of the gospel of Jesus, who was himself murdered by a mob for a crime he didn’t commit and rose again to create freedom for a people oppressed, not by cultural domination but by instituting a new Kingdom of love, grace and justice.
Photo by Jen