Watch Surviving a Lynching | The New Yorker Video | CNE | Newyorker.com

[film rolling] [piano key playing]

[dog barking]

Here’s my favorite of all the whole Jedi,

Obi-Wan Kenobi.

He’s not afraid,

but he’s just so fantastic with his mind.

Feel how light that is.

It’s a light as a feather.

Oh, look at my Yoda.

[Patsy] He loves these things.

Now that’s a boy there.

You know what?

He, if you take him out of the box,

he’ll run around all over the floor and talk

and you can ask him some things and he’ll answer you.

I got two of them.

[Toy] I sense your fear.

You are right to be afraid.

He got killed.

I tell you the reason I like it, because I never had toys

when I was growing up.

The little boy in me just loved the movie,

and the character were just so fantastic, you know?

I’m going to give them to my kids when I’m gone.

[light music]

[hammer tapping]

Art is a story.

I don’t know no other way you can say what art is

besides it tells a story.

[light music]

[hammer tapping]

I’m telling a story about my life

and it’s going to take 50 pictures to do it.

I got eight done.

It’s gonna take 50.

[hammer tapping]

I’m putting these pictures on here

and they’ll never fade away, never.

I never dreamed that I had the talent to become an artist.

But my wife kept telling me, oh, you can do it.

You got talent, Winfred.

You can do this, and you can.

But you know, wives can say them kind of things, you know.

But is it true?

[light music]

Winfred has a true account of how we live,

how we survive in the South.

[light music]

When a patient walks into my room,

they expect to have a seat and for me to talk with them

about their history, about their journey.

I take that information and I use it to help them heal.

I need to look at history.

And sometimes patients come in and tell you horror stories,

but I can’t discard it because I need it all

to help that patient to live.

I’m a physician, but I’m also an artist.

I see myself a little bit of both.

[door knocking]

Winfred is a artist.

Were both from the South,

and had the opportunity to go to one of his art shows,

and there he was.

He’s had a lot of health problems, hypertension, diabetes,

prolonged over 40 years of stress.

And I think that stress interferes

with your ability to sleep.

So how many hours of sleep you get a night?

Three or four.

Three or four hours?

Mm-hm.

And that’s with the medicine?

Yeah.

Without the medicine, what do you get?

Without the medicine, I get nothing.

And this has been going on for how long?

About four years.

Whenever he do one of those pictures, he gets sick.

He have to go to the doctor, and she has to talk to him,

and he has a double up on that medicine

in order to get some rest.

For you, it’s post-traumatic stress disorder.

Yeah.

So, it traumatizes you again

and make you relive what you had gone through.

Exactly.

And the thing is that sometime,

acknowledging the history doesn’t help some people to heal.

It may help other people,

not me though.

I don’t think it does.

It’s a different kind of art that’s healing.

My kind is not healing.

I’m gone do his cap.

Do his face, put on his ear.

Do I put hope in my art?

Nah, not much.

Since everything is done from the past,

there’s not much hope in it.

I can sit down and start thinking,

and my mind will go back when I was five and six years old.

I can remember.

God gave me a good memory.

We lived on a plantation, and that was the early 60s.

It don’t take long for you to realize that something’s wrong

with picking cotton every day, all day.

You start out on your rows.

You can’t see the end.

You spend all day and you never get to the end of your row.

At the time I was 14, I ran away from, not home,

but I ran away from the cotton field.

I was doing everything I thought possible

that could live a different type of life.

That’s a signal that she know I’m, I’m working.

She hear this. [hand knocking]

Man, I go through the night, three, or four, five o’clock

in the morning.

And when she don’t hear that,

she, boy, she’s down the stairs like bullet.

The trauma that he seen and the trouble he has

to go to sleep and to rest,

I’ve seen that increase as he get older.

The dramatic stuff, that’s when we have a problem.

But those are the ones he really need to get done.

Sometime he wakes up, completely up,

calling whoever it is that’s running him.

He call him by name.

And he’ll be saying stop.

If I don’t take my medicine,

then I can’t sleep with Patsy.

‘Cause I’m going through, if I’m dreaming, I may,

I may punch Patsy.

Let me go back to this scar that I’m carrying.

I joined the Civil Rights Movement at 14 years old.

When you are part of the movement,

you make a name for yourself

and all the white people know you.

And they’re waiting to get their hands on you.

I stayed in jail over a year with no charges, nothing.

So, I took a roll of toilet paper, stuck it in the john,

flooded the jail.

And when the Sheriff came back, he came back

and he was going through the nigger thing with me.

He kicked me two or three times.

And about the third time he kicked me out of the side,

I wouldn’t let him kick me anymore,

grabbed his legs and I threw him to the ground.

And he went for his gun.

I took it away from him.

And he’s begging me not to shoot him.

So I said, well, I’m not going to shoot you

but I’m going to lock you up.

So, I locked him in his cell and then I fled.

Went to this house of civil rights workers, I thought.

The woman answered the door.

I told her what had happened.

She went into the next room and called the police.

Next thing I know, every white man in cuffs

with George is standing out there in the yard.

Threw me in the trunk of the car, about a 30 minute ride.

And then they opened up the trunk,

I saw these ropes hanging from a tree, nooses,

a place designed, look like, to hang people.

When they put the rope up around my feet,

pulled me up in a tree.

Here come the Deputy Sheriff that I locked in the cell

and he’s got a knife.

And he come up, and he grabbed my private parts,

and he took his knife, and he stuck me.

They was going to castrate me,

and then hang me, and burn me.

I was 19 years old,

and there I am bleeding like a pig hanging up in the tree,

ready to be slaughtered like a hog.

And then another white man grabbed his arm

and told him don’t do that.

Said, we’ve got better things we can do with this nigger.

I took my shirt, rolled it up between my legs like that,

when I was in the trunk of the car

and squeezed my legs together.

I saved myself.

[light music]

My mother used to tell me, she said,

you cannot internalize the pain.

If you internalize that pain, it just chips away at you.

This country, no one really, genuinely talk about

the people who were lynched.

Sometime they would lynch people then put them

in the water with weights,

so the family would never see them again.

Sometimes they would take the bodies

and cut them up and sell the pieces.

Sometimes they would take the body, after they lynched it,

and burn it up,

so the families would not have anything.

Those are ones that were recorded.

What about the ones that were not recorded?

It was close to three to 4,000 people who were lynched.

And a lot of these people never got a funeral.

It was often too dangerous for the families

to retrieve those bodies.

And sometime, there was no bodies to retrieve.

It’s not just black history, this is American history.

[somber music]

You don’t survive a lynching.

You just, if you lynched, you dead.

I just happened to be one man that was safe.

It has hurt me.

It has kept me from being maybe what I could have been.

Yes it has, it held me back, because it’s brutal

and no one wants to talk about it.

[Shirley] First time I saw you, I was trying to,

medically speaking, I was trying to figure out,

why does he have these on his hand?

Those are chain gang marks.

But one more than the other.

[Shirley] Why this one more than this one?

‘Cause that’s my punching hand.

I didn’t learn to box, I learned to survive.

♪ Working on the highways and byways and wearing ♪

♪ You hear them moaning their lives away ♪

♪ Can you hear somebody say ♪

♪ Well don’t you know ♪

♪ That’s the sound of the men working on the chain gang ♪

[Shirley] Wow.

Beautiful, that’s beautiful.

Y’all gonna make me cry.

It’s a beautiful morning.

You got your long johns on?

Okay, good.

Then I can walk you to Georgia, what you think?

You can lean against me.

I’m sorry to lean on you that way.

I got it.

Don’t you see how I’m a, I’m a strong Georgia girl?

I see that.

That’s right.

I’m giving out.

Well, it’s a pretty day to do that on me.

You would pick cotton?

You know it.

We used to pour water in there, but they,

they got hip today.

Oh, really?

Yeah.

Only thing thing weigh more, put a brick in it.

Did you do that? Yeah.

You put a brick in it? Yeah.

Oh God, I didn’t know about that.

[soft music]

Hey, you.

Hi!

Hey.

Hi.

How you doing?

Good, good.

Thank you for coming.

Getting ready for tomorrow, the 29th,

try to pull it all together.

Hey, Nathaniel, you know that painting I did with the,

with the KKK?

[Man On Phone] Yeah.

Could you bring it to me in Springfield?

[light music]

I decided to have a funeral

for the over 4,000 African-Americans who were lynched

in the United States to close that chapter and move forward.

America has to do the same thing to help heal this country.

You’ll get some pushback from people.

Why do you want to stir that up?

It hasn’t been stirred enough.

People were saying, ah, that’s so depressing.

I say, well, if you think this depressing,

try hanging from a tree.

[light music]

What can I do?

I can’t bring them back, but I can give them a prayer.

[light music]

Good evening.

[Audience] Good evening.

I’m Dr. Shirley Jackson Whitaker.

And the question we ask tonight is

why do we need to be here?

We need to be here because our country needs to heal.

And some bad things happen in this country

where Americans tortured other Americans

due to the color of their skin.

That went on so long in America.

What are you going to do about it?

Because I remember as a little girl, when we went

to a funeral and they lowered that casket in the ground,

the minister would saying ashes to ashes.

[Audience] Dust to dust.

A lot of our people never got that.

So we’re looking back in history so this patient can live.

We’re looking back in history so this patient can thrive.

We’re looking back in history

so this patient can become very strong.

But this patient could only a live and get stronger

if we’re willing to look back.

So tonight, we start.

There’s an African proverb that says,

you speak my name and I will live forever.

So tonight, we will speak some names.

My name is Nasir and I’m representing

Hamilton.

[light music]

My name is Mary Turner.

I was the 19-year-old, pregnant wife

of the wonderful Hayes Turner.

My name is Lamar Thomas

and I am representing the unnamed negro.

But when I confronted his murderers,

they lynched me and burned my body.

My name’s Kiah Bellamy

and I represent, representing Eugene Azar.

They ripped my unborn baby out of my belly,

ensuring his death along with mine.

I am James Howell.

And they told me I had a choice.

Either I could die with my son

or I could watch him die and live to tell the story.

I had no choice.

I had my wife and other children to look after,

to live for.

And as my son cried, and begged, and pleaded for his life,

they bound his hands and feet and forced him into the river.

And as I stood, trembling with tears running down my face,

watching my son sink to the bottom of the river,

never to rise again,

never to rise again.

[Shirley] So in unison, whoever you’re representing,

speak that name.

[audience speaking]

[chorus singing] [hands clapping]

That lynching,

is on my back.

And it’s dragging me down,

even today.

That’s been 40-some years ago.

And even today, now, it’s dragging me down.

I can’t rest.

I can’t rest.

I lay in my bed and I can’t rest.

I’m running for my life every night.

Somebody’s after me

and I don’t know what to do.

I’m mad about what happened.

And it didn’t seem like it was nobody that has said,

hey, this is wrong, don’t do him like that.

It hurts me to see him in that kind of pain.

Their pain is there.

They need to be erased.

We commit to the ground these bodies and these souls.

And let us forever remember and reflect upon

the lives that have been nameless and unknown

for many years.

Ashes to ashes, dust to dust.

[somber music]

A funeral is a healing for those that are alive

giving respect to those that have departed.

I think they wanted to be remembered

and to have their rite of passage, the right to move on.

[light music]

I can’t be healed.

I don’t think I can be healed.

I think I’ll go to the grave with what I got,

holding me down and holding me back.

Even though those things was done to me years ago,

they’re still holding me back.

Can I send the message?

Can I change this?

I can’t change this world.

I know I’m not a big enough man to do that,

but I can put a dent in it.

[hammer tapping]

But you just keep going, and going, and going, and going.

♪ I love you ♪

♪ I wish you could see me now ♪

♪ I wish you could see the work that I’m doing now, Momma ♪

♪ I wish you could be with me now ♪

♪ I hope you up there looking down ♪

♪ Looking down down at your child ♪

♪ Doing this leather work ♪

[hammer tapping]

♪ I guess, Momma, you one of the reason that I keep doing it ♪

[hammer tapping]

♪ Yes, you are ♪

[hammer tapping]

.