Saturday, December 28, 2019

"The Cross and the Lynching Tree" by James H. Cone

This is a heavy book.  Not physically, but emotionally and mentally.  I'll be honest with you -- it unsettled me.  For the better, actually.

Cone looks at parallels between the cross that Jesus died on and the trees that so many African-Americans died hanging from, particularly between 1880-1940, when lynchings were commonplace.  He points out that really, Jesus's crucifixion was a lynching -- mob rule having a man tortured and executed without a proper sentence.  And that faith in God to bring good out of evil, to save them even if they died a horrible death, was what sustained many black people during those terrifying years.

Parts of this book were very hard to read.  I skimmed some of his descriptions of torture that black people suffered at the hands of their enemies.  Maybe that was cowardly of me, but my imagination is so strong, yet sensitive, that even the ones I did read fully were hurtful to read.  One of them, I wish I'd skimmed, because it was so atrocious, so truly inhumane, I don't want to believe it's true, that human beings to do such a thing.  But I know they can -- history shows us over and over that sin can cause people to hit nauseating levels of depravity.

I came away with a new understanding of injustices and wrongs done by Americans to Americans.  By human beings to human beings.  We don't talk about this reign of terror much anymore, and Cone points out that by forgetting and ignoring and burying our nation's memory of what happened during slavery, Reconstruction, and pre-Civil Rights America, we dishonor the victims of those hate crimes.  I think we also risk setting ourselves up to repeat our past sins.

Anyway, this was a tough, sobering read, but I'm glad I made time for it in my end-of-the-year schedule.  It's given me a lot to contemplate.

If This was a Movie, I Would Rate It: a very hard R.  Lots of torture, murder, rape, and other atrocities discussed.


  1. I should read this book. I have read a ton of detailed discussions of lynching in the United States, but never one from a Christian perspective. That would bring an interesting angle to it, I think.

    (And yeah, I am with you--it's AWFUL. So much more awful than most of our popular history allows us to realize, or wants us to believe.)

    1. Katie, I've read quite a bit about lynchings in the Old West, but most of my knowledge of what happened in the South came from the Billie Holliday song "Strange Fruit" (which gets talked about a lot in this book) and a handful of mentions here and there in history textbooks. Not like this. Not at all. I think you would get a LOT out of this book.

      (Oh my goodness, the atrocities. Burning people alive? Dismembering people for trophies and souvenirs? Selling postcards with pictures of the event? I am so angry.)

    2. I AM ANGRY TOO.

      The postcards somehow make it all worse--because they're celebrating it, and they're sending photographic evidence of it to other parts of the country (as mail) with PRIDE. These unspeakable acts of violence are being treated as a badge of HONOR.

    3. EXACTLY. Let's all go to the lynching, which was planned in advance, and where people are taking photos and setting up mobile printing sets so they can make postcards of those photos and selling them... so let's buy a postcard and send it to a friend. "Wish you were here."

      It's revolting.

    4. It is.

      And our country won't be spiritually healed until we (among other things) REALLY acknowledge these lynchings; what was done and how horrible it was.


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