Summer 2019 marks the centennial of what author and activist James Weldon Johnson referred to as “Red Summer,” a series of 1919 lynchings and other acts of violence against African Americans across the country. These events, which unfolded in several cities including Chicago and Washington, DC, are not widely known or taught. But they should be as our nation grapples with the history of racism and its legacies.
Up until late last May, the bronze statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee, was featured prominently in the center of Lee Circle in New Orleans, Louisiana. Now, the nearly 60-foot column it rested upon is bare and empty after the city removed the last of its Confederate era monuments. Sparked by Mayor Mitch Landrieu after the 2015 massacre of nine black churchgoers in Charleston, South Carolina, the effort to remove these monuments has ignited emotionally charged responses and debates all across the country: Are we erasing the past by removing them? Or are we upholding legacies of racism and discrimination by keeping them?
The killing of Cecil the Lion on July 1st attracted both heavy news coverage and a flurry of responses on social media. An interesting thread emerged from these responses: questions about how people can become so outraged over the death of a lion on the other side of the world, when there are larger scale, or more local, stories of individuals and groups of people suffering unspeakable violence and injustice. The underlying theme that unites many of these confrontations is “Which story about tragedy or injustice is more worthy of our attention?”