Ida B. Wells Barnett, in a photograph by Mary Garrity from c. 1893.

My emotional reaction to the great American journalist Ida B. Wells’ historic work Lynch Law in America is varied and deep. I am shocked and horrified to learn that lynchings took place before a mob and without trial of the alleged perpetrator. While the constitution states, “We the people,” it has been noted by people of color there is a clear difference in how they are treated as opposed to their white peers. This was also demonstrated throughout the essay: a white woman only needed to say she felt threatened by a Black man, and he would be put to death. This clearly shows the level of disparity that existed in that time. 

Throughout the essay, I experienced different emotions as a Black person; lynching was not only about physical harm but also set on breaking the receiver’s spirit by making them a public spectacle. It makes me sad as well as angry to see the lengths humans would go to, to denigrate, hunt, and terrorize an individual or group of people based on the color of their skin. Reading the article has opened my eyes to parts of history that I really have not thought of in a long time. Emotionally I am torn between being grateful for the opportunities I now have and the feeling of regret that past generations had to suffer. Annoyed, because these were allowed to happen for so long. Powerlessness, because as one person there is only so much you can do. Pained, just thinking about the suffering they endured.  

While the climate has changed with regards to lynching, white supremacy and injustice continue to exist in our society. Terrible abuse heaped on the Black community has continued throughout the years. There remains disparity in how justice is carried out, how investigations are conducted and whether we have the privilege of ‘innocent until proven guilty’ as a race.

Derriffee Graham

All the victims of lynching required was some sort of justice to be served, fairly and impartially so they could abide. Much like today, all Black communities are looking for is fairness in the execution of judgment.

History serves its purpose by helping us to understand transitions, change and growth. Through historical events like these, we can sometimes appreciate how far we have come as a race. 

Racism in the United States of America has always been prevalent. While it would appear to be based on individual experiences, at the core it is a systemic issue. Death by lynching is not widely or officially practiced in the 21st Century. However, African Americans are still being profiled, brutalized, and often murdered by the police in public — like some of the scenes described in lynching scenarios. The only thing that has changed over the decades is the mode of brutality. 

I personally think racism will always be a stain on America’s name as long as systemic inequality is allowed to continue. Where one group is marginalized, treated differently, or given fewer opportunities, then times really have not changed much since the days of lynching. A society where skin color continues to be seen as a weapon or where you are immediately thought of as less worthy has problems that are ingrained into members of society. There are obviously people who are not racist by their actions or interactions but until they are willing to trade places or stand up and be a voice of reason then we will continue to have this problem. 

In retrospect as I reflect on this era, I can only imagine the terror people of color lived with. Not knowing when they would be the next one accused and put to humiliation and death. Not having the resources to protect their families or being a target by simply existing.

I take this as an opportunity to remind myself that I stand on the shoulders of those who came before me, those who suffered, died, and dared to stand up to their oppressors when they were clearly outnumbered, so this generation and generations to come thereafter can thrive. 

Derriffee Graham is a freshman at Norwalk Community College majoring in computer science. Originally from Jamaica, he is also a member of the CT Air National Guard.