Has lynch law returned?

Whether it was murder or suicide, the grim spectacle of a Mississippi teen's death shows that interracial dating is still taboo -- in the minds of blacks as well as whites.

Topics:

Has lynch law returned?

The discovery of Raynard Johnson’s body hanging from a pecan tree in the front yard of his Kokomo, Miss., home last month stirred fears among many blacks that lynch law had again reared its ugly head.

Johnson’s family openly disputed the coroner’s ruling that their 17-year-old son was a suicide. They said he was murdered for dating a white girl.

Underlying their bitter charge was the recognition that Johnson, an African-American, had presumably violated America’s oldest and most enduring taboo: black males having sexual relations with white females. And while civil rights leaders quickly joined the clamor over his death, lost in the shouting is the fact that relationships between black men and white women have become increasingly controversial in black circles, too.

The Rev. Jesse Jackson insists Johnson’s death has the earmarks of a lynching. The NAACP hired a private investigator, and the Southern Poverty Law Center noted that the Klan had long used white fears of black men raping white women to terrorize blacks.

There is no tangible evidence that Johnson’s death was anything other than a suicide.

Indeed, many found the idea that he had been lynched for dating a white girl absurd. They point to a sevenfold increase in black and white marriages since 1960 — there are now an estimated 1.5 million interracially married couples. But these account for only a tiny fraction of total marriages, and the overwhelming majority live in multiracial urban areas.

You Might Also Like

Older blacks still have vivid memories of the lynch murders of 14-year-old Emmett Till for allegedly whistling at a white woman in 1955 and Mack Charles Parker for the alleged rape of a white woman in 1959. As late as the mid-1950s, interracial marriage was a felony offense in 30 states, with heavy fines and prison terms. Six years after the Supreme Court struck down school segregation in 1954, 29 states still outlawed black-white marriages. Maryland and Nevada went further, banning all sexual contact between blacks and whites.

The civil rights movement and the political emergence of Asian and African nations, however, made anti-miscegenation laws a political liability and the Supreme Court in 1967 finally dumped them. This did not sound the death knell for the taboo. Though legally unenforceable, bans on interracial marriages remained on the books in 12 states in 1979.

This week a New York Times poll offered new insight into black and white attitudes toward the taboo. Almost two-thirds of whites, and four-fifths of blacks, said they approved of interracial marriage. But the figure for whites jumped by 50 percent, while the black number edged up more slowly, from 70 to 79 percent.

In 1996, an informal survey in Ebony magazine found 40 percent of black women and 25 percent of black men saying they would not date a person of another race.

Hollywood and the TV industry are still unenlightened. They avoid showing black men and white women in intimate relations, mainly for fear of offending mostly white audiences and sponsors. But again, some black stars are reluctant to play romantic roles opposite white women — the most recent example being Eriq LaSalle, Dr. Peter Benton in NBC’s “ER,” who asked writers to terminate his relationship with a white doctor because his character had never had a successful relationship with a black woman. (This past season, Benton’s girlfriend was black.)

Just last week “Sex and the City” showed a hot liaison between Samantha and a black boyfriend, but it ended when the boyfriend’s black sister made clear she wouldn’t stand for his dating a white women.

Anti-miscegenation laws may be buried, and Americans may be more tolerant toward interracial sex, so the notion that someone can be murdered for dating someone of a different race seems far-fetched. But the fact that so many blacks are instantly willing to think the worst about Johnson’s death, and that so many Americans, black and white, still express fears about white women and black men dating and marrying, should remind us that this oldest of taboos is alive and well.

Earl Ofari Hutchinson is a contributor to Pacific News Service and the author of "The Crisis in Black and Black."

More Related Stories

Featured Slide Shows

  • Share on Twitter
  • Share on Facebook
  • 1 of 11
  • Close
  • Fullscreen
  • Thumbnails
    Martyna Blaszczyk/National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest

    National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest Entries

    Slide 1

    Pond de l'Archeveche - hundreds thousands of padlocks locked to a bridge by random couples, as a symbol of their eternal love. After another iconic Pont des Arts bridge was cleared of the padlocks in 2010 (as a safety measure), people started to place their love symbols on this one. Today both of the bridges are full of love locks again.

    Anders Andersson/National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest

    National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest Entries

    Slide 2

    A bird's view of tulip fields near Voorhout in the Netherlands, photographed with a drone in April 2015.

    Aashit Desai/National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest

    National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest Entries

    Slide 3

    Angalamman Festival is celebrated every year in a small town called Kaveripattinam in Tamil Nadu. Devotees, numbering in tens of thousands, converge in this town the day after Maha Shivratri to worship the deity Angalamman, meaning 'The Guardian God'. During the festival some of the worshippers paint their faces that personifies Goddess Kali. Other indulge in the ritual of piercing iron rods throughout their cheeks.

    Allan Gichigi/National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest

    National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest Entries

    Slide 4

    Kit Mikai is a natural rock formation about 40m high found in Western Kenya. She goes up the rocks regularly to meditate. Kit Mikai, Kenya

    Chris Ludlow/National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest

    National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest Entries

    Slide 5

    On a weekend trip to buffalo from Toronto we made a pit stop at Niagara Falls on the Canadian side. I took this shot with my nexus 5 smartphone. I was randomly shooting the falls themselves from different viewpoints when I happened to get a pretty lucky and interesting shot of this lone seagull on patrol over the falls. I didn't even realize I had captured it in the shot until I went back through the photos a few days later

    Jassen T./National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest

    National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest Entries

    Slide 6

    Incredibly beautiful and extremely remote. Koehn Lake, Mojave Desert, California. Aerial Image.

    Howard Singleton/National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest

    National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest Entries

    Slide 7

    Lucky timing! The oxpecker was originally sitting on hippo's head. I could see the hippo was going into a huge yawn (threat display?) and the oxpecker had to vacate it's perch. When I snapped the pic, the oxpecker appeared on the verge of being inhaled and was perfectly positioned between the massive gaping jaws of the hippo. The oxpecker also appears to be screeching in terror and back-pedaling to avoid being a snack!

    Abrar Mohsin/National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest

    National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest Entries

    Slide 8

    The Yetis of Nepal - The Aghoris as they are called are marked by colorful body paint and clothes

    Madeline Crowley/National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest

    National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest Entries

    Slide 9

    Taken from a zodiac raft on a painfully cold, rainy day

    Ian Bird/National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest

    National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest Entries

    Slide 10

    This wave is situated right near the CBD of Sydney. Some describe it as the most dangerous wave in Australia, due to it breaking on barnacle covered rocks only a few feet deep and only ten metres from the cliff face. If you fall off you could find yourself in a life and death situation. This photo was taken 300 feet directly above the wave from a helicopter, just as the surfer is pulling into the lip of the barrel.

  • Recent Slide Shows

Comments

0 Comments

Comment Preview

Your name will appear as username ( settings | log out )

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href=""> <b> <em> <strong> <i> <blockquote>