Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Fifty Years Ago Today This Martyr For Civil Rights Took a Bullet

On Monday the Duluth News Tribune printed an article about the Clayton Jackson McGhie Memorial memorial that was completed and commemorated in our town ten years ago. This one of a kind memorial is aimed at helping us not forget the three black men who were lynched on this corner June 15, 1920.
According to the article , art historian LaTonya Autry will be speaking this Friday "at the 10th annual Day of Remembrance at the CJM memorial, part of a week of activities run by the memorial board."

Lynchings around the country were all too common a century ago. The reason Ms. Autry returned to Duluth this week is because our memorial here is uncommon. It was a senseless killing. A memorial like this reminds us of who we've been, makes an appeal to think different, be different, and to not forget.

On this date a half century ago there was another senseless killing. Medgar Evers, a man dedicated to empowering Southern blacks through the exercise of democracy, took a bullet in the back of his head as he was walking from his car to his front door. There are memorials in Jackson, Miss. now as well, but it was Bob Dylan's "memorial in song" that brought this event -- along with the power constructs that made it inevitable --into the spotlight of national attention so we'd never forget.

The opening line of the song rings out with a poetic potency that is arresting. "A bullet from the back of a bush took Medgar Evers' blood."  As the story unfolds it reveals. (1)

He knew he was putting his life on the line by attempting to alter existing power structures and to right wrongs. What surprises so many people here in the Northland is that the wrongs Evers fought against were taking place somewhere else and we just don't associate this kind of blatant racial violence with our home town. We'd be more comfortable it remained in its place.

Strange Fruit Southern trees bear strange fruit, 
Blood on the leaves and blood at the root, 
Black bodies swinging in the southern breeze, 
Strange fruit hanging from the poplar trees. (2)

The memorial downtown reminds us that no place is immune. The world is broken and for this we must occasionally grieve so that we can move forward with hope.

(1) Only a Pawn In Their Game  
(2) Strange Fruit

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