|Author||Ho Chi Minh|
|First published||August 26, 1924|
La Correspondance Internationale, vol. IV, no. 59, pp. 628-629.
|Source||Ho Chi Minh (1914–1945). Selected Works, vol. 1.Foreign Languages Press, 2021 edition.|
A little-known aspect of American civilization
It is well known that the black race is the most oppressed and most exploited of the human family. It is well known that the spread of capitalism and the discovery of the New World had as an immediate result the rebirth of slavery which was, for centuries, a scourge for the Negroes and a bitter disgrace for mankind. What everyone does not perhaps know is that after 65 years of so-called emancipation, American Negroes still endure atrocious moral and material sufferings, of which the most cruel and horrible is the custom of lynching.
The word lynching comes from Lynch. Lynch was the name of a planter in Virginia, a landlord and judge. Availing himself of the troubles of the War of Independence, he took the control of the whole district into his hands. He inflicted the most savage punishment, without trial or process of law, on loyalists and Tories. Thanks to the slave-traders, the Ku Klux Klan and other secret societies, the illegal and barbarous practice of lynching is spreading and continuing widely in the States of the American Union. It has become more inhuman since the emancipation of the Blacks and is especially directed at the latter.
Imagine a furious horde. Fists clenched, eyes bloodshot, mouths foaming, yells, insults, curses… This horde is transported with the wild delight of a crime to be committed without risk. They are armed with sticks, torches, revolvers, ropes, knives, scissors, vitriol, daggers, in a word with all that can be used to kill or wound.
Imagine in this human sea a flotsam of black flesh pushed about, beaten, trampled underfoot, tom, slashed, insulted, tossed hither and thither, blood- stained, dead.
The horde are the lynchers. The human rag is the Black, the victim.
In a wave of hatred and bestiality, the lynchers drag the Black to a wood or a public place. They tie him to a tree, pour kerosene over him, cover him with inflammable material. While waiting for the fire to be kindled, they smash his teeth, one by one. Then they gouge out his eyes. Little tufts of crinkly hair are torn from his head, carrying away with them bits of skin, baring a bloody skull. Little pieces of flesh come off his body, already contused from the blows.
The Black can no longer shout: his tongue has been swollen by a red hot iron. His whole body ripples, trembling, like a half-crushed snake. A slash with a knife: one of his ears falls to the ground… Oh! How black he is! How awful! And the ladies tear at his face…
“Light up,” shouts someone—“Just enough to cook him slowly,” adds another.
The Black is roasted, browned, burnt. But he deserves to die twice instead of once. He is therefore hanged, or more exactly, what is left of his corpse is hanged. And all those who were not able to help with the cooking applaud now.
When everybody has had enough, the corpse is brought down. The rope is cut into small pieces which will be sold for three or five dollars each. Souvenirs and lucky charms quarreled over by ladies.
“Popular justice,” as they say over there, has been done. Calmed down, the crowd congratulate the “organizers,” then stream away slowly and cheerfully, as if after a feast, making appointments with one another for the next time.
While on the ground, stinking of fat and smoke, a black head, mutilated, roasted, deformed, grins horribly and seems to ask the setting sun, “Is this civilization?”
From 1889 to 1919, 2,600 Blacks were lynched, including 51 women and girls and ten former Great War soldiers.
Among 78 Blacks lynched in 1919, 11 were burnt alive, three burnt after having been killed, 31 shot, three tortured to death, one cut into pieces, one drowned, and 11 put to death by various means.
Georgia heads the list with 22 victims, Mississippi State follows with 12. Both have also three lynched soldiers to their credit. Of 11 burnt alive, the first State has four and the second two. Out of 34 cases of systematic, premeditated and organized lynching, it is still Georgia that holds first place with five. Mississippi comes second with three.
Among the charges brought against the victims of 1919, we note:
- One of having been a member of the League of Non-Partisans (independent farmers);
- One of having distributed revolutionary publications;
- One of expressing his opinion on lynchings too freely;
- One of having criticized the clashes between Whites and Blacks in Chicago;
- One of having been known as a leader of the cause of the Blacks;
- One for not getting out of the way and thus frightening a white child who was in a motor-car.
In 1920, there were 50 lynchings, and in 1923, 28.
These crimes were all motivated by economic jealousy. Either the Negroes in the place were more prosperous than the Whites, or the black workers would not let themselves be exploited thoroughly. In all cases, the principal culprits were never troubled, for the simple reason that they were always incited, encouraged, spurred on, then protected, by the politicians, financiers and authorities, and above all by the reactionary press.
When a lynching was to take place or had taken place, the press seized upon it as a good occasion to increase the number of copies printed. It related the affair with a wealth of detail.
Not the slightest reproach to the criminals. Not a word of pity for the victims. Not a commentary.
The New Orleans States of June 26, 1919 published a head-line running right across the front page in letters five inches high: “Today a Negro Will be Burnt by 3,000 Citizens.” And immediately underneath, in very small print: “Under a strong escort, the Kaiser has taken flight with the Crown Prince.”
The Jackson Daily News of the same date, published across the first two columns of its front page in big letters:
Negro J. H. to be Burnt
by the Crowd at Ellistown
This Afternoon at 5 p. m.
The newspaper only neglected to add, “The whole population is earnestly invited to attend.” But the spirit is there.
A few details
This evening at 7.40 p. m., J. H. was tortured with a red hot iron bar, then burnt… A crowd of more than 2,000 people… many women and children, were present at the incineration… After the Negro had been bound from behind, a fire was kindled. A little further away, another fire was kindled in which an iron bar was placed. When it was red hot, a man took it and applied it to the Black’s body. The latter, terrified, seized the iron with his hands, and the air was immediately filled with the smell of burning flesh… The red hot iron having been applied to several parts of his body, his shouts and groans were heard as far away as in the town. After several minutes of torture, masked men poured petrol on him and set fire to the stake. The flames rose and enveloped the Negro, who implored to be finished off with a shot. His supplications provoked shouts of derision (Chattanooga Times, February 13, 1918).
15,000 people, men, women and children, applauded when petrol was poured over the Negro and the fire lit. They struggled, shouted and pushed one another to get nearer the Black… Two of them cut off his ears while the fire began to roast him. Another tried to cut off his heels… The crowd surged and changed places so that everyone could see the Negro burn. When the flesh was entirely burnt, the bones laid bare and what had been a human being was but a smoking and deformed rag curling up in the flames, everyone was still there to look… (Memphis Press, May 22, 1917).
Men of all social classes, women and children, were present at the scene. Many ladies of high society followed the crowd from outside the prison, others joined it from neighboring terraces… When the Negro’s corpse fell, the pieces of rope were hotly contended for (Vicheburg Evening Post, May 4, 1919).
Someone cut off his ears, another removed his sexual organ… He tried to cling to the rope, his fingers were cut off. While he was being hoisted to a tree, a giant of a man stabbed his neck; he received at least 25 wounds. He was several times hoisted up, then pulled down into the brazier. Finally a man caught him in a lasso, the end of which was attached to a horse which dragged the corpse through the streets of Waco. The tree on which the hanging took place, was right under a window of the mayor’s house. The latter looked on while the crowd was in action. All along the way, everyone took part in the mutilation of the Negro. Some struck him with shovels, pick-axes, bricks, sticks. The body was covered with wounds from head to foot. A shout of joy escaped from thousands of throats when the fire was kindled. Some time after, the corpse was hoisted up high in the air, so that everyone could look at it, which raised a storm of applause (Crisis, July 1916).
White victims of lynching
It is not only the Blacks, but also the Whites who dare to defend them, such as Mrs. Harriet Beecher Stowe—author of Uncle Tom’s Cabin—who are ill-treated. Elijah Lovejoy was killed, John Brown hanged. Thomas Beach and Stephen Foster were persecuted, attacked and imprisoned. Here is what Foster wrote from prison,
When I look at my damaged limbs, I think that, to hold me, prison will not be necessary for much longer… These last 15 months, their cells have been opened to me four times, 24 times my compatriots have dragged me out of their churches, twice they have thrown me from the second floor of their houses, they have damaged my kidneys once; another time they tried to put me in irons; twice they have made me pay fines; once 10,000 people tried to lynch me, and dealt me 20 blows on my head, arms and neck.
In 30 years, 708 Whites, including 11 women, have been lynched. Some for having organized strikes, others for having espoused the cause of the Blacks.
Among the collection of the crimes of American “civilization,” lynching has a place of honor.
- American War of Independence (1775-1783). The liberation war launched by 13 British colonies in North America against Great Britain in order to win their independence; this war brought about the founding of the United States.
- Elijah Lovejoy, Editor of the newspaper Illinois Observer, one of the participants in the struggle for the liberation of the Negroes. On November 7,1833, the racists lynched him and burnt the printing house of his newspaper. The murderers went unpunished.
- Brown, John (1800-1859) was one of the organizers of the struggle for the liberation of the Negroes. He founded an abolitionist society, schools for black people, and helped the slaves flee to Canada. In 1855, together with his five sons he struggled against the slave owners in Kansas because the latter terrorized the local population. On October 16, 1839, the head of a group of 18 Whites and Negroes, he occupied the Government’s arms depot at Parkersburg in Virginia. But he was not able to arm and lead the Negroes to rise up. The group led by Brown was encircled by the slave owners and government soldiers from Washington. In a fight two of his sons were killed, and he was severely wounded and arrested. Some days later, he appeared in Court on a stretcher. He was executed on December 2, 1859.
- Thomas Beach and Stephen Foster: Well-known abolitionists who actively participated in the liberation movement of the Negroes.