I exist because my grandfather escaped his intended lynching—an issue regarding alleged impropriety with a white woman—by about twenty minutes. He fled north, later meeting my grandmother. I had always assumed that my maternal grandparents, both native Georgians, met down south and moved to New York together. Apparently that was not the case.
However, this is not about me. I am not so egotistical to believe that I am the final step in some grand and intricate design of fate! But it is astounding to reflect on how such small moments have a monumental impact on families and societies and nations. It is not that I exist because my grandfather was able to escape a band of murderous terrorists—it is that so many exist. A whole tribe of people who draw breath because one man had the savvy and ingenuity to escape those determined to extinguish his.
I’m impressed—and not surprised that I only learned of this in 2019. African Americans have the tendency to bury the pain and the injustices inflicted upon them to spare their children and grandchildren. Perhaps we feel that our offspring should be kept from the knowledge of such horrors. Even as an adult the awareness is nearly crippling, to know all of the ways the people who loved you suffered and to know that they will never see justice. Ever. It’s an anger that can break you. But what does not kill you makes you stronger. And what does not break you can nourish and sustain you—compel you to draw a line in the sand and ensure that it will never happen again. You destroy a people when you bury their history. You empower them when you uncover it.