(Editor’s note: Zann Nelson initiated the proposal for the resolution and serves on the King Commission's History of Lynching in Virginia work/study group)
Last week I began a series concerning differing thoughts regarding the history of lynching in Virginia and a resolution before the 2019 General Assembly “acknowledging with profound regret.” That dialogue continues below.
Reader 1: ...what an absurd idea. That somehow the "descendents of the cultural majority" have some culpability in the actions of psychotic individuals decades ago. Sorry, but assigning guilt to people who were not even born at the time just transcends any logic, and frankly, is endemic of a current atmosphere of self flagellated virtue signaling. No one is "covering up" anything, that would imply denying it happened. "Our past mistakes"? Again, people who were not even born at the time have no culpability-What about that can't you understand?
I did not respond specifically to this post however, I would like to do so now. First the question of the sins of our fathers and are descendants culpable? There are many descendants of the American Civil War that hold fast to the actions of their ancestors with a sense of pride and ownership.
As to lynching or other forms oppression, did my own ancestors participate? I do know that as white Christians (and poor ones at that) they enjoyed privileges not extended to others. Were they guilty of the tragic practice of lynching by omission? Support of the proposed resolution allows me to own that communal lack of responsibility.
We honor most of our history and those who have lost their lives in the fight for freedom with monuments, street names and textbooks. And yet, there is a cry to deny that truth seeking and commemoration to persons who died at the hands of those who chose to deny them their Constitutional rights: their personal freedom.
As to the phrase “self flagellated virtue signaling” I researched definitions. Self- flagellation is an act of self-inflicted pain or excessive self- criticism. Virtue signaling is an expression of one’s own good character and is currently a tool of “conservative commentators to criticize empty or superficial support of left-wing or liberal political views” (Wikipedia https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Virtue_signalling) If the reader is suggesting that a resolution like this one illustrates self- criticism and an example of what a person of good character wishes to do as atonement, I can accept that!
If societal challenges stem from deeply rooted events or cultural biases, is it not a sensible approach to apply transparency and open discussion acknowledging the wrongs that occurred? Or should we continue to pretend it was not significant nor had any residual effect? Which brings me to the final point worthy of note in this reader’s comments: “the actions of psychotic individuals.”
The perpetrators of the three lynchings in Culpeper numbered anywhere from 15 to several hundred. In other cases of lynchings they were “public outings” with thousands attending - even with their children.
The acts were accepted by the communities either by commission or omission with leaders in government, the judicial system and local churches participating or turning a deaf ear. No perpetrators were prosecuted, even when their identities were known. The harsh and unpleasant reality is that this was not the work of psychotic individuals but the regrettable culture of the community at the time.
Shall we perpetuate the disease through pretending it was isolated and therefore irrelevant or bring it out into the light of day and declare, “Never again?
Thank you for thinking! Until next week, be well.