Two years ago a group from St. Dunstan’s spent most of the Saturdays in Lent visiting the sites of lynchings in Fulton County. The purpose of these visits was to remember what had happened at each of these sites, to remember those who died in such horrific ways, and to collect sacred soil from each site.
We were part of a larger group, the Fulton County Remembrance Coalition, that has worked in conjunction with the Equal Justice Initiative, based in Montgomery, AL. EJI is the organization behind the National Memorial for Peace and Justice, otherwise known as the lynching memorial.
The first of the 35 lynching sites we visited was for Mack Henry Brown, a Black man who did maintenance in an Atlanta apartment building. A woman who lived in that building told her husband that Mr. Brown had said something inappropriate to her (which could have been as innocuous as saying hello). The husband gathered his friends, went to Mr. Brown’s house at night, kidnapped him, and drove him to north Fulton County, where he was killed. His body was then dumped into the Chattahoochee River. Days later his body, with bound feet and cuffed hands, washed ashore on the Roswell side of the river.
This week an historical marker honoring Mack Henry Brown was unveiled at the river in Roswell. “The marker serves as a reminder of a past we should never forget,” City Councilman Matt Judy said. “This is a place to remember Mr. Brown and all those lost to needless and often violent injustice of ignorance and hate.”
There are many who would just as soon forget the stories of lynching and racial terror that haunted our country and continue to haunt it. (Today is the first anniversary of the murder of Ahmaud Arbery, who was chased and killed by three white men as Arbery was jogging near Brunswick).
We’d like to forget that the Ku Klux Klan met in church basements, plotting acts that were an abomination of the very Gospel they claimed to profess.
“How could white Christians reconcile the ‘strange fruit’ they hung on Southern trees with the ‘strange fruit’ Romans hung on the cross at Golgotha?” theologian James Cone asks, quoting the powerful song about lynching, “Strange Fruit,” made famous by Billie Holiday.
“How could the white Christian community reconcile ‘blood on the leaves and blood at the root’ with the blood on their consciences?”
That is a question that white Christians must ask ourselves.
Just as Germans should never forget the Holocaust, we should never forget the atrocities and sins of slavery, segregation, and the lynching tree. The ongoing legacy of white supremacy still holds us all — black and white — in its thrall.
If we are to be liberated, if we are to heal as children of God and as a nation, we must remember. We must tell the stories without flinching at their hard truths. We must honor the victims and those who fought and continue to fight for liberation.
If God could take the evil of the cross and transform it into victory over evil and death, then God can work through us, too, to transform the evil of white supremacy and bring justice, healing, and hope to all of God’s people.
Attached is the service for Compline for this week.