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The Challenge of Being Black
12/31/2014 11:36:21 AM

By Barney Blakeney

Out with the bad, in with the good. Out goes 2014, in comes 2015. It’s such a blessing to have lived through another year. Well, almost another year. As I write this there are five more days left in 2014.

Over the years I’ve come to appreciate each day of life. Folks rib me about my incessant reflections on my Nov. 24 birthday. Yeah, I’m talking about it again, this time in print. I’m always glad to see a birthday. Everybody don’t get to see theirs. One day, I won’t see mine.

That makes me think about 14-year-old George Stinney, the youngest person executed in the U.S. in the 20th century. Stinney was accused of killing two white girls back in 1944. Recently there’s been a lot of talk about George Stinney, how he was charged with the murders without any evidence, frightened into confessing to the crime, summarily tried, convicted and executed all in 81 days.

Stinney’s story is horrifying. A young kid, raised in a small saw mill town of about 400 people off the beaten path in Clarendon County near Manning, who had never been anywhere or done anything. He never learned the street smarts most kids today acquire watching television. This kid grew up in the woods at a time when white was right and black had to get back.

The horrific story of Stinney’s capture, questioning, display at a mock trial and callous execution is part of my reason for cherishing life so much. I’ve got family in that neck of the woods and visited them often.

I was born eight years after Stinney’s execution and by the time I can recall my visits to his neck of the woods, things had changed a little. I was still playing in the dirt most of those years I visited my relatives in Clarendon County.

I rarely ventured out of my aunt’s yard or off her narrow street lined with neat little houses in her segregated neighborhood which I suspect was on the colored side of town.

I can’t imagine what Stinney’s ordeal must have been like. During my visits to ‘the country’, I was protected by a group of women who kept me close at their skirt tails whenever we went downtown. As I got older I still never ventured very far from the protection of my aunts and older cousins.

George Stinney was subjected to the home grown injustice of being a Black kid in a small town community during the Jim Crow. I escaped it. Emmett Till wasn’t so blessed. That city boy also felt the full fury of Jim Crow justice.

Unlike Stinney who suffered as the result of an actual crime - though obviously there was no concern about capturing the real perpetrator - Till was executed over a perceived crime.

Till also was 14 when some white men in Money, Miss. dragged him from his uncle’s house in the middle off the night alleging that the Chicago, Ill. teen earlier had whistled at a white women. What those men did to Till was inhumane. Not that Stinney’s state execution was humane.

When I think about those boys and all the other boys whose names we never hear, boys who were lynched, murdered and executed in woods, communities and state capitols across this country I realize I have a lot to be thankful for having grown up at a time when a Black boy could be fatally punished for just being Black at the wrong time and in the wrong place.

I escaped those dangers, but many did not. And today that danger still exists for Black boys. In New York , N.Y. a young Black man recently was executed just for walking down a darkened stairwell.

I can’t imagine where New York City police officers are coming from turning their backs on Mayor Bill de Blasio. The mayor only spoke what everybody knows about the challenges of being a young Black male facing law enforcement in uncertain circumstances. Yeah, I understand solidarity, but right is right and wrong is wrong.

I figure most cops are good people doing a job they want to do. But we also know there are some yahoos who aren’t smart enough to leave their personal prejudices at home when they put on the uniform.

The unfortunate reality is a lot of the murders, lynchings and executions perpetrated against Black boys throughout the history of our nation were committed by boys in blue.

I’m hoping that as we wait to exhale 2014, we’ll inhale a renewed commitment to bringing closer a day when injustices like George Stinney’s execution truly can be viewed as a thing of the past.

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