Symbols have power. Symbols have meaning. Symbols have a context. Symbols have histories. Behold the noose.
Nooses have been in the news--again. Most recently a white, female golf commentator made a reference to Tiger Woods and lynching, a statement that got some media attention and led to a two-week suspension for the sportscaster. The South Carolina native and Duke graduate apparently didn't know or remember the history of lynching; an unfortunate word choice--its history, its symbol, its power--sparked significant controversy. And then, the golf publication Golfweek put a picture of a noose on the cover of a recent issue that dealt with the Tiger Woods story. Read more about these stories from this local blogger, and read these very interesting posts (and here) from the blog of Edward Gilbreath. Professional golfer Jim Thorpe offers commentary and perspective here.
This is of course another instance of why history matters, and why the teaching of history matters so much.
Then there were the many stories about the "Jena 6" from Louisiana, where race, class, and the South's (and that nation's) history converged, most notably on a day of national protest last fall. The fact is, Jena (or at least the news coverage of it) overshadowed many other "noose incidents" in 2007. Read here about Columbia University, here about the Coast Guard, and, from a Houston suburb, Pearland, here. A Washington Post article details other incidents here, and a New York Times opinion piece provides a map of recent incidents (see map above).
As many readers will remember, some of our recent study of Jim Crow America focused on lynching and its history. The Rise and Fall of Jim Crow documentary has a companion website with helpful maps, and the authors of Without Sanctuary created an on-line documentary of their book.
And perhaps most notably, the W.E.B. Du Bois Crisis essay "The Son of God" (1933) we read contains an important scene where the carpenter Joshua is lynched for his teaching, and for the power of his message of liberation, equality, and justice. You will recall, Mary, his mother, saying: "Behold the Sign of Salvation--a noosed rope." Here, Du Bois creatively and powerfully writes redemptive power into a symbol of death--a true prophet.
Yet, there's more to this history. The theologian James Cone recently appeared on the Bill Moyers Journal and powerfully discussed the intersections between lynching, race, religion and history. The historian Donald Matthews published a three-part article on lynching a few years back, and Edward J. Blum covers lynching, race, and religion in one chapter of his recent book on Du Bois.
For a musical and lyrical expression of lynching, its history, its tragedy, its sorrow, and its power, listen to Billie Holiday's "Strange Fruit." Read about the song and find the lyrics here.
[Photo credit here.]