In The Warmth of Other Suns, Isabel Wilkerson‘s hard-to-put-down chronicle of the Great Migration, she describes the lynching of Claude Neal in Marianna, Florida in 1934.
It is a gruesome tale of unspeakable acts, including the mutilation, hanging, rehanging, dragging and shooting of one man.
And though we can only hope that this orgy of gratuitous hate and voyeurism was what Wilkerson says was “perhaps the single worst act of torture and execution in twentieth-century America,” we know it was illustrative of the reign of terror, humiliation and intimidation that prevailed in the American South well into the 1960s.
“Across the country, thousands of outraged Americans wrote to President Franklin D. Roosevelt demanding a federal investigation,” Wilkerson writes. “The NAACP compiled a sixteen-page report and more files on the Neal case than any other lynching in American history. But Neal had the additional misfortune of having been lynched just before the 1934 national midterm elections, which were being seen as a referendum on the New Deal itself. Roosevelt chose not to risk alienating the South with a Democratic majority in Congress at stake. He did not intervene in the case. No one was ever charged in Neal’s death or spent a day in jail for it,” Wilkerson adds. Continue reading
This photo by William Porto was taken in 2008.
Construction of the Cathedral of St. John the Divine, located at 112th St. and Amsterdam Ave. and dubbed a house of worship “for all people,” began on Dec. 27, 1892, when the first cornerstone was laid. But it took decades for the church to be completed. My father published this column Feb. 23, 1935, and it would be more than six years before the opening of the full length of the Cathedral. (The opening celebration took place Nov. 30, 1941, and a week later the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor. Construction was halted during World War II and did not resume until the 1970s.)
The grand design inspired this response to those who warned that the Apocalypse was imminent:
“I am far more interested in the present rise in food prices, the prolonged depression, and the likely invasion of Abyssinia by the Italians than in any tornado of fire sweeping these hemispheres and leaving their inhabitants in ashes. Yet there remain a few devout persons who occasionally try to scare my reluctant soul into submission with this bogey, which, they say, will be followed by that great Judgment Day when I will have to account for even taking a lump of sugar when Mother wasn’t looking. When they come around again I will tell them that while they in their puny knowledge look for world destruction, learned theologians are erecting structures of granite to stand forever.”
The New York Age, February 23, 1935
“The Episcopal Church might find an antidote for its racial ills by first cleaning house, and then by directing its evangelistic and missionary activities toward those barbarians in the South who ruthlessly violate the constitutional rights of Negroes, denying them fair and impartial trials when accused of offences they seldom commit. Toward this appalling condition, the Episcopal Church has been noticeably apathetic,” Ebenezer writes.
Here is a link to information on Rev. Alexander McGuire, who founded the African Orthodox Church in response to racism in the Episcopal Church.
The New York Age, February 16, 1935
With current assaults on the press, including in South Africa, of all places, this column is validation that the fight continues.
The New York Age, December 8, 1934