Racism, death and history

Aug. 10, 2013 @ 03:05 PM

Gird yourself, I’m about to talk about race and injustice and history and civil rights. Do you know who George Stinney was? Lord have mercy on so many who were responsible for the South Carolina state-sanctioned killing of an African-American 14-year-old boy.

Pre-Miranda rights, he was accused of murder, tried and executed in a few months. That happened in 1944, but information about young George’s tragic death has been recirculating, as recent talk about race has brought up old stuff. Would the same have happened to a white boy? Why do I have to talk about old stuff? Well, history matters. George Stinney matters. And do you know who else matters? Booker T. Spicely.
Spicely was also killed in the 1940s in a Carolina, but it was our North Carolina, and our Durham. He was an African-American man whose shooting death played out as Old South history often did. Spicely was an Army private stationed at Camp Butner. According to various accounts, he was shot dead by a white Durham bus driver after being told to move to the back of the bus and arguing with the driver. It happened on Club Boulevard. The driver was acquitted and lived decades more. Spicely’s life ended at that bus stop in West Durham.
There are killings every day in every state, of all ages and races and genders. The damage inflicted spreads beyond the killer, the victim and why it happened. Sometimes, an injustice galvanizes others, the way the murder of Emmett Till was such an integral event in the civil rights movement. His mother was not afraid to talk about it or show the body of her son, whose killers went free. Not talking about it, not showing it, not remembering the names does not make it go away. Saying it is past does not take away the grief. Saying I’m not like that doesn’t make other people not like that. But standing up in public and calling it out, naming people, naming what happened, is a step in moving things forward. So that’s why today I’m reminding you of George Stinney and Booker T. Spicely.
George Stinney’s family did not get to see their boy before he was unjustly executed. They left town under threats of violence. A child was killed by the state, and he was alone. I’m the mother of a son, and I think I can feel in my heart just a tiny bit of how it must have felt in the hearts of others knowing George was alone except for those on the wrong side of humanity. Before last week, I didn’t know who George Stinney was, but I know now, and I won’t forget him.
I will undoubtedly hear from readers angry about me bringing up old stuff. History is important and impacts our lives and world views today. It’s important to acknowledge the past even as you carry on into the future.
“Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere,” said the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.
Dawn Baumgartner Vaughan may be reached at dvaughan@heraldsun.com or 919-419-6563.