By Alex Mikulich, Ph.D.
James Cone confronts U.S. white Christians and theologians with our forgetfulness of the scandal of the cross, of lynching, and of ourselves. Jesus died like a lynched black victim in torment, on the tree of shame. The crowd’s shout, “Crucify him!” (Mark 15:14), echoes the white mob’s shout, “Lynch him.” And Jesus’ final agonizing cry from the cross, “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?” reverberates in Sam Hose, a Georgia lynching victim who cried, “Oh—My God—Oh, Jesus” upon dying. Every lynching, like Jesus’ death, “was a cruel, agonizing, and contemptible death.”1
Do we hear the echoes of Sam Hose’s cry? The legacy of lynching presents a bind for white U.S. Christians, for it concerns our failure to honestly contend with our role in the material history and spiritual wounds of lynching.
By lynching, I mean the extra-judicial terror practiced by crowds in U.S. history. The U.S. legacy of lynching involves at least the 4,749 known lynchings, recorded by the Tuskegee Institute, between 1882 and 1968. “Known” is critical because we likely do not know the full number due to underreporting, and the full number does not include lynchings since 1968, like those of James Byrd (1998) and Matthew Shepard (1999). Ida B. Wells estimated more than 10,000 lynchings in the early twentieth century. Seventy-three percent of documented lynchings (3,445) were African American (by contrast, there were a total of 2,974 deaths as a result of the 9/11 attacks in three locations).2
Office Location: Mercy Hall, Room 306 | Mailing Address: 6363 St. Charles Avenue, Box 94 New Orleans, LA 70118