Southern Trees


On September 21, 2011, two men were executed by Southern courts.  A Black man, convicted of shooting and killing a White police officer, was executed in Georgia.  A White man, convicted of dragging a Black man to death behind a pickup truck, was executed in Texas.

Southern trees bear a strange fruit

In a powerful parallel ignored by the media, these executions, representing the culmination of legal cases on opposite ends of the racial divide, took place within hours of each other, even though the crimes themselves occurred almost a decade apart.

The current media cycle has focused a large amount of attention on the case of Troy Davis, the Black man convicted of killing police officer Mark MacPhail in Savannah, Georgia on August 19, 1989.  Such attention has been generated because seven of the prosecution’s original witnesses, who claimed to see Mr. Davis shoot Officer MacPhail during a dispute, recanted their stories.  Several of them went so far as to say that they were coerced by the police to bear witness.  Given the reasonable doubt generated by their recantations, Americans took to the streets of Georgia to protest Davis’ impending execution.  When all appeals to stave off the execution failed, Americans stood by helplessly and mourned what appeared, to them at least, to be a gross misapplication of justice.  On September 21, 2011, Americans could only hope that justice was served without prejudice.

Read more about it here.

On every social media outlet I have access to, I have become a witness to the American anger  that is overflowing the levees of jurisprudence.  When I read the statement: “Don’t be surprised if you see a lot of ATTITUDE on the plantation tomorrow,” I was saddened at this acute summation of centuries of American strife.

Meanwhile, without any media fanfare, Lawrence Brewer was executed in Texas on the same day.  Brewer, a known White supremacist, was convicted along with two other men of dragging James Byrd to his death on June 7, 1998.  On that day in Jasper, Texas, Brewer, along with his accomplices, beat Mr. Byrd with bats and other objects, chained him by the ankles to the back of a pickup truck, and dragged him for over two miles on an asphalt road.  Mr. Byrd was killed when his body hit the edge of a culvert, severing his right arm and head.  The motive?  James Byrd was Black.  After dumping Mr. Byrd’s body in front of an African-American cemetery, the men testified that they went to a barbeque immediately afterwards.

Get the details here.

Blood on the leaves, and blood at the root.


On June 26, 2011, just a few months before these executions, a Black man, James Anderson, was killed in Jackson, Mississippi when two White teenagers beat him in a parking lot, then deliberately ran him over in a pickup truck.  Hinds County District Attorney Robert Shuler Smith stated that Dedmon and John Aaron Rice, both 18, rejoiced after the attack.  According to Smith, both alleged assailants celebrated afterwards, with Dedmon allegedly calling a friend and announcing: “I just ran that nigger over.”

See article here.

These crimes were committed at the turn of the 21st Century, and at the dawning of hope created by the election of America’s first Black President.  The horror reflected in the song “Strange Fruit,” written by Abel Meeropol, still reverberates on the American landscape, as evidenced by the first two lines highlighted here.  Billie Holliday, singing a song first released in 1939, still echoes the pain, anger and frustration felt by Americans almost a century later.

So how do we as a community harvest a different crop borne by Southern trees?  I submit we need look no further than the family of James Byrd for the answer.

On a day that national attention was focused on the execution of Troy Davis, the Byrd family sat vigil at the execution of Lawrence Brewer, convicted of taking the life of their brother; their father; their son.  Here is what they had to say:

Renee Mullins, Mr. Byrd’s oldest daughter:

The execution doesn’t mean that much to me because it’s doesn’t bring my father back. I want the world to know that I have forgiven him and I don’t hate him.

Betty Byrd-Boatner, Mr. Byrd’s sister:

I feel sorry for Brewer because he has so much hate inside of him, and didn’t understand how to get (it) out of him and he took the wrong path.

 Read more about the Byrd family vigil here.

I can only imagine the pain and anguish of Officer MacPhail’s family.  But I humbly submit that they heed the wisdom of the Byrds, lest we all continue to harvest a bitter crop.

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1 Response to "Southern Trees"

  • Willie Nabors says:

    The only way the roots of hatred/prejudice/fear/low self-esteem/cultural demoralization that have permeated the American tapestry can be be done away with is by burning them out with an infusion of love. Martin Luther King was willing to not fight in order to win battles against injustice. The King of Kings was really sold on this love thing, by the way. It is unfortunate, however, that these roots go so deep that it will take a concerted effort to remove the mindsets that are all too common. I grew up in the South, in Memphis, TN,and those things that we read about as history were still fresh in my parents’ minds as I was coming up. They tried to instill wisdom based upon some very negative experiences: my 50-year old mother had never seen a white man intentionally touch garbage to remove it until my first day in Andover, MA; a few months before that, a man was found hanging in a tree in a field near our home, immediately causing a furor about lynchings making a comeback. Some of us have had an opportunity to live outside our aquariums, to see the universal fishbowl for what it is, a conglomeration of cultures, races, and systems of thought. My take on the matter of “the race thing” is to see it for what it is:fear. To root out fear requires us to face the differences and attack those negative perceptions before cancerous fear latches on to an unsuspecting, unprepared generation that is following after us.

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