By Dr. Kaye Whitehead
Special to the AFRO
Southern trees, Billie Holiday once sang, bear strange fruit, and when this happens, blood is on the leaves and blood is at the roots. Everything should close when an unarmed Black person gets killed in this country. All movements, in all communities, should come to a standstill so that we can have a day to grieve, a moment to mourn. We should dress in white, head down to the river, pour some libations, and say their names: Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, George Floyd. We should burn some incense, light some sage, and then do to White supremacy what White folks did to Black Wall Street and Rosewood. We should use the long eye of history, read Black Power: The Politics of Liberation, and realize that within a racist and capitalist society, power never concedes or relents or gives in without a struggle, without a war. Coretta Scott King, whose husband was hated and feared by the parents of the adults who now revere his name, once said that freedom is never really won because you must earn it and win it in every generation. And Malcolm X, who was murdered in cold blood in front of his family, once proclaimed that if you are not ready to die for freedom, remove the word from your vocabulary. Medgar Evers, who was shot and killed in his own driveway, noted that freedom has never been free. We should have a day to mourn when they kill us and use it as a time to remind ourselves that freedom, if that is what we are genuinely seeking, will cost us everything we have.
We should say the names of those that have been killed—Botham Jean, Atatiana Jefferson, Rayshard Brooks—lift them up and then proceed to act as decisively as this country acts when whiteness, militarized and authorized, fights against us.
In 1967, at the height of the Vietnam War, Dr. King, the Nobel Peace Prize winner and one-time darling of the Civil Rights Movement, radically changed his tactics. He was no longer talking about the dream of integration but the nightmare of American capitalism, racism, and militarism. Dr. King was no longer talking about holding hands and singing freedom songs; instead, he was actively pursuing an aggressive political, antiwar, and socioeconomic agenda. He was relentless and unflinching in his call for a $50 billion-dollar massive federal aid program for Black people. They killed him, not because he was calling for little Black boys and girls to hold hands with little White boys and girls, but because he was challenging American imperialism and calling for them to dismantle capitalism. America is an evil and greedy country, and Black economic independence is a threat to the White-dominated capitalism that grips this country, oppresses us, and kills us with impunity.
In 1921, during the Tulsa race massacre and in 1923 in Rosewood, White people killed, destroyed, looted, and burned Black neighborhoods to the ground. It was an act of domestic terror designed to silence us and break us. Every time we rise, White people organize to beat us back down. In 1865, with the ratification of the 13th Amendment, there was a push to provide some form of reparations: 40 acres, a mule, and 50 dollars. There was probably some excitement and a whole lot of trepidation because after seeing the evilness of White people up close, formerly enslaved people understood that power never concedes without a battle plan to attack. It never has, and it never will. Six days later, secret white societies, including the Ku Klux Klan and the White Brotherhood, were founded to restore white order and rule back to the South. They were trying to break us, to scare us into submission. They terrorized us; burned crosses on our property; kidnapped, raped, beat, and lynched us. They were brutal in their efficiency, holding cookouts with their wives and children, while Black bodies, a strange and bitter crop, were hanging from the trees. According to the Equal Justice Initiative, between Reconstruction and World War II, more than 4,400 racial terror lynchings happened in this country. Lynching is a particular form of targeted domestic terrorism designed to remind us to hold our peace, remember our place, not fight back.
Since May 27, amid the most massive movement for Black lives, six people of color: a woman, four men and a teenage boy have been found hanging from a tree. Officials say that the investigations so far point to suicide, but in our hearts, in our spirits, we know that we have been here before. Everything should close when Black and Brown bodies are found swinging in the breeze. We need a day to grieve and a moment to mourn.
We should dress in white, head down to the river, pour some libations, and say the names that we know: Otis “Titi” Gulley, Robert Fuller, Malcolm Harsch, Dominique Alexander. We mourn, and then we fight back with the same type of ruthlessness and arrogance that led enslavers to demand freedom from the British while simultaneously enslaving us. We fight back until the killing of Black boys and Black girls—to paraphrase Ella Baker—is as important as the killing of White boys and White girls. We fight for freedom until it is won.
Karsonya Wise Whitehead (email@example.com; Twitter: @kayewhitehead) is the #Blackmommyactivist and an associate professor of communication and African and African American studies at Loyola University Maryland. Recently selected for the Essence Woke 100 List, she is the award-winning host of “Today With Dr. Kaye” on WEAA 88.9 FM. She lives in Baltimore City with her husband and their two sons. She launched #BlackCovidStories as a way to archive our stories about Covid-19. She is sheltering in Baltimore with her husband and their two sons.