Have things changed 10 years after Texas lynching?
By Jesse Muhammad
HOUSTON (FinalCall.com) - It was June 7 a decade ago that James Byrd, Jr. was tied to the back of a truck and dragged to his death in the east Texas town of Jasper. The incident sparked coast to coast outrage and 10 years later during national commemorative events the question being posed: How much has racism in America changed?
“I don’t see any progress made 10 years since the murder of my brother,” said Clara Byrd Taylor to The Final Call. “The present climate and atmosphere in this country is such that this can happen again and again. Racism is still everywhere.”
In l998, Mr. Byrd was murdered by three White men when they dragged him three miles to his death in the outskirts of the small town. This incident is known as one of the worst hate crimes in American history. Three suspects were convicted of the crime, which marked the first time in Texas history that White men were convicted of murdering a Black man. Today, two of the convicted murderers are on death row, while the third is serving a life sentence.
“These killers have shown no remorse at all and if the death penalty is executed under the law then I would not have any problem with it. My family wants justice,” said Mrs. Taylor.
To mark his death, Byrd family members planned to participate in three national tributes. The first event was held June 2 in Houston and the second was slated for June 7 in Jasper, Texas. The third tribute will be held June 22 in San Francisco. Hundreds of local events are scheduled throughout the country.
The Houston event was held at the Cullen Oaks Community Center and was titled “Nooses, A History of Lynching, From Trees to Trucks.” It was sponsored by the Center for Healing Racism in partnership with the Byrd Foundation for Racial Healing, the Byrd family and the James Byrd, Jr. Racism Oral History Project, a project of the Byrd Foundation for Racial Healing.
The presentation involved a discussion on the history of lynching in America and the use of the noose to hang Black people dating back to the early 1900s. “We wanted to show that the pickup truck that was used to drag my brother to his death was a modern day noose. Teaching our young people this history is critical,” said Mrs. Taylor, who is president of the Byrd Foundation for Racial Healing.
“Today the noose has been used as a prank, but there is nothing funny about it to me. This feeds into the racism in this country,” said Mrs. Taylor. “Older generations tend to be settled in their thinking but we have a chance to reach the youth and educate them. We have to fight to put this racism to an end.”
Speakers at the event included Cherry Steinwender, co-director of the Center for Healing Racism; Michael Ingram, of the Center for Healing Racism; and Lani Silver, director of the James Byrd Jr. Racism Oral History Project. Musician Jimmie Moore performed at the free event and a commemorative march was also held.
Southwest Regional Student Minister Robert Muhammad, of the Nation of Islam, was in attendance at the emotional funeral of Mr. Byrd 10-years-ago and observed that “things have become worse in this country in the last decade. We as a people have become our own worst enemy. These are dangerous times and our people must take heed to the divine guidance of the Honorable Minister Louis Farrakhan and become peacemakers in our community. The scriptures read that blessed are the peacemakers.”
“Fear, lack of trust and no understanding are at the core of racism,” said Pastor Mark Viator of Friendship Church in Beaumont, Texas. “We want to highlight that what these men did was wrong and we need to be agents to stand for righteousness. Stand up against those things that would not line up with God’s word and his character.”
The James Byrd, Jr. Racism Oral History Project was launched in the summer of 2000 and has collected approximately 2,500 oral histories on the topic of racism in America. The oral histories serve to remember and honor Mr. Byrd and hope to help Americans improve race relations in their communities. The foundation has helped introduce hate crime legislation in Texas and consults on hate crime legislation nationwide.
On June 20, the Houston PBS news station will broadcast a live panel discussion entitled “A Conversation on Race.” Panelists will include Robert Muhammad, Police Chief Harold Hurtt, journalist and Pulitzer Prize finalist Tony Freemantle, Rice University sociologist Stephen Klineberg and Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-Texas).