The Cross and the Lynching Tree

Thank you, Sean Palmer for suggesting this book. It is one of the most sobering, disturbing, and yet hopeful books I’ve read in a long time.
Disturbing: According to a study by the Equal Justice Initiative, nearly 4,000 African Americans were lynched during the years of 1877-1950 (this is not in the book).
“The lynching tree is the most potent symbol of the trouble nobody knows that blacks have seen bCROSSANDLYNCHINGTREEut do not talk about because the pain of remembering…is almost too excruciating to recall.”
Sobering: “The crucifixion of Jesus by the Romans in Jerusalem and the lynching of blacks by whites in the United States are so amazingly similar that one wonders what blocks the American Christian imagination from seeing the connection.”
Hopeful: “All the hatred we have expressed toward one another cannot destroy the profound mutual love and solidarity that flow deeply between us– a love that empowered blacks to open their arms to receive the many whites who were also empowered by the same love to risk their lives in the black struggle for freedom. No two people in America have had more violent and loving encounters than black and white people…No gulf between blacks and whites is too great to overcome, for our beauty is more enduring than our brutality.”
As a white-middle-class-American-Baby-Boomer I’ve become very uncomfortable with the awareness that I have benefited both economically and educationally through my race. My father served in World War 2 and the Korean War. He was able to be admitted into Pharmacy school and become a pharmacist which provided his family with a measure of financial comfort and opportunity he may never have achieved had he not been white.
This does not mitigate the struggles my father went through growing up in the Depression or the hard work he endured to put himself through college and serve in two wars. However, he had a huge leg-up: he did not have to contend with racial segregation, persecution, discrimination, or Judge Lynch who was alive and well while he was a young man.
I am sobered not by imagined guilt. I am sobered by reality. I feel the weight of my own heritage. Even though I am not a Calvinist and I do not believe we inherit the sins of our fathers–I do believe that those of us who have benefitted from the sins of the past have a responsibility to somehow move forward in sensitivity toward peace and reconciliation.
Such reconciliation cannot effectively happen if we who are white pretend we did not benefit, or act as if the sins of the past are insignificant. No we cannot change the past, but like Germany and the Holocaust: we must never forget and we must learn.
I challenge all of my white friends and colleagues to read this book and see if you can keep a dry eye or walk away unchanged and unchallenged by James Cone’s words.
Of course, the proof of the pudding is in the eating. The unsettling questions I have to ask every morning as I look in the mirror is, “Now what? So what? Will I continue to live the way I’ve always lived? Or will I be challenged enough to take a step in the direction of reconciliation–not only with my brothers and sisters of color but also with those who are the new outcasts in society: immigrants, refugees, and a host of others who are hidden from our comfortable perch?”

About Darryl Willis

Darryl has been working for non-profits for over 38 years. His current work takes him to Central and Eastern Europe several times a year. He has fallen in love with the the people of these varied nations. Darryl writes poetry and his work has appeared in several online and print journals.
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