Wednesday, December 07, 2016

The December 7th anniversary nobody celebrates

It's pretty horrible.

The last reported instance of white Texans burning an African American at the stake occurred eighty-three years ago today, December 7, 1933, near a black neighborhood in Kountze, Texas.

On Saturday, December 2, a 30-year-old white woman named Nellie Williams Brockman left her and her husband’s farm and headed to a department store in Kountze by truck. Somewhere along the way she ran into trouble and was apparently shot. They found her body next to the truck and both the vehicle and her corpse were partially burned.

After Brockman’s body was discovered, a few folks claimed they had seen a shotgun-carrying black man head into the woods not far from where the crime was committed. Local law enforcement officials mounted an intensive search for the suspect, utilizing platoons of armed volunteers and keen bloodhounds, but turned up nothing.

A few days into the manhunt, the Kountze Police Department became interested in an African American man named David Gregory. According to the San Antonio Express, Gregory, a preacher’s son, only became a suspect after a anonymous “tip”: “Cloaking their investigation in secrecy, officers said the tip was of such nature that to divulge it would greatly jeopardize chances of apprehending the fugitive.”

The Galveston Daily News indicated that the tip came after Gregory was suspected and that its source was one of the suspect’s aunts. Whatever the case, when Gregory learned that he was a suspect, he disappeared and at least six African American men (including Gregory’s brother) were arrested in an attempt to determine his location. The News suggested that the informer placed Gregory at an African American church in the small community of Voth (now part of the northwest section of Beaumont, just east of U.S. Hwy 96 and the Pine Island Bayou).

On December 7, Hardin County Sheriff Miles D. Jordan, Sr., Deputy Sheriff Ralph B. Chance, Jefferson County Sheriff W.W. “Bill” Richardson and Deputy Sheriff Homer French headed to Voth and discovered Gregory at the described church, apparently concealed in the belfry. When they asked him to come down he refused and “flourished” a pistol (not a shotgun, the weapon the black suspect was reported carrying near the crime scene). Deputy Chance subsequently felled Gregory with a shotgun blast, the buckshot tearing into Gregory’s face and neck and rendering him unconscious.

Sheriff Jordan et al took custody of Gregory and immediately transported him to a Beaumont hospital. He was in critical condition and received emergency treatment, but the doctors indicated that he probably wouldn’t survive until morning. 

The story gets even worse from there, and I'll leave it to you to finish.  Here's the author's last few paragraphs, which are worth considering in this new era we're heading into.

It is important to recall this history because folks that look like me—white folks—got away with it. Folks who burned dozens of black men at the stake. Folks who committed racial expulsions and perpetrated wholesale massacres.

Today, we approve of voter suppression and summary execution and elect governors who hunt at places with names like Niggerhead Ranch. We have the upper hand and we maintain it assiduously. We feel it’s our birthright. And as our privilege and pseudo-superiority are increasingly questioned and challenged, we claim we’re being put upon, or wrongfully vilified. We consider criticism of our entitlement an act of subversion and sedition.

White fragility has its roots in white monstrosity. And since we white folks have never had to acknowledge much less atone for our catalogue of inhumanities here in Texas—particularly involving persons of color—ignorance must prevail. We feel our entire way of life depends on it.

E.R. Bills isn't talking about himself or even me, but really ... he is.

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