American history is not black history, and our history is not America's to dictate. Until we understand that and begin teaching our history to ourselves in ways that serve our own cultural needs instead of the majority's, we will continue to internalize this nation's prejudices against us, instead of arming ourselves to appropriately demonize and deflect them.
Jesse Washington was just one black man to die horribly at the hands of white death squads. Between 1882 and 1968 -- 1968! -- there were 4,743 recorded lynchings in the U.S. About a quarter of them were white people, many of whom had been killed for sympathizing with black folks. My father, who was born in 1904 near Paris, Texas, kept in a drawer that newspaper photograph from back when he was a boy of thousands of people gathered as if at a picnic to feast on the torture and hanging of a black man in the center of town. On a journey tracing our roots many years later, my father choked and grew silent as we stood near the spot where it had happened. Yes, it was hard to get back to sleep the night we heard the news of the Jordanian pilot's horrendous end. ISIS be damned! I thought. But with the next breath I could only think that our own barbarians did not have to wait at any gate. They were insiders. Home grown. Godly. Our neighbors, friends, and kin. People like us.
In Richmond, a new alliance of social justice activists and historic preservationists has formed to protect Shockoe Bottom against incompatible development. Leadership of the alliance includes Preservation Virginia; Defenders for Freedom, Justice & Equality; and a working group of preservationists from nearby Church Hill.
Americans like to think that they live in a perpetual present, as author Ilan Stavans, a Jewish-Mexican immigrant to the U.S. in the 1980s, writes in A Most Imperfect Union, lavishly illustrated by his compadre Lalo Alcaraz. But that is another illusory convention that, like many others, gets knocked down in the manner of a summary execution.