Legislative study committee to take a look back at TN lynchings

Tennessee is taking a tentative step toward acknowledging its legacy of lynching and other civil rights crimes, reports WPLN, citing a bill approved by the Legislature earlier this year.

In all, 238 Tennesseans are documented to have been lynched. The crimes include hangings, beatings and drownings.

State Rep. Johnnie Turner, D-Memphis, pushed a bill through the legislature this year that creates a study committee of three state representatives and three senators. (Note: It’s HB1306, sponsored in the Senate by Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris). The group will hash out details — or even if the commission is something Tennessee desires.

Turner has no doubts.

“There are a lot of cases out there — unsolved, civil rights murders,” she says. “It is extremely urgent that we do something now before it becomes too late.”

The move is part of a larger effort to rethink brutality under Jim Crow. Some now say lynching should be viewed as domestic terrorism aimed at depriving African-Americans of their rights, rather than random violence.

The gruesome death of Jesse Lee Bond in 1939 is difficult to contemplate now, these people say. But they add, it’s long past time for authorities to acknowledge his killing was not an isolated incident.

The movement to rethink lynching includes a national museum in Montgomery, Ala. The Memorial to Peace and Justice is being built with private funds by an organization called the Equal Justice Initiative.… And this week, the Equal Justice Initiative launched an interactive map to show where lynchings occurred.

… Though separate, a lynching commission in Tennessee would add to those efforts.

It’s up to the study committee to determine what the scope of the commission would be. The measure approved by lawmakers calls for focusing on cold cases from “the civil rights era,” which Turner describes as the 1950s, ’60s and ’70s.

And it’s not clear whether those cases would be investigated by the commission itself or turned over to local prosecutors.

The measure passed the state legislature unanimously, though with some reservations. State Rep. William Lamberth, R-Cottontown, questioned the need for a commission. He says the only crime that could be prosecuted is murder.

“And if there’s any (police) department out there that doesn’t have a cold case unit and isn’t investigating murder, then they need a change in leadership,” he says. “It sounds like something that will sound good in the news.”

Turner, however, cites her family’s experience under Jim Crow to justify more intensive inquiry. Her father-in-law was murdered, she says, for standing up to a white man who whistled and flirted with his daughter.

“We know that law enforcement and the criminal justice system failed to hold these vigilantes accountable,” she says. “I don’t think we should ever not assume responsibility for not trying to find an answer.”

One Response to Legislative study committee to take a look back at TN lynchings

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *