Some of The Most Devastating Moments in Black History

So Many Tears: The Most Devastating Moments in Black History

Words By Amber Mckynzie

From Emmett Louis Till to Trayvon Martin, there has never been a shortage of violent or discriminatory acts towards the Black community. And the crime: being born with a skin color that could never be light enough. Beyond slavery—for the past 55-plus years—monstrous crimes have been committed with little recourse or repercussions.

Being in the wrong place at the wrong time became a perpetual justification for racist opportunity, and authoritative figures often looked the other way when they weren’t helping carry out a crime. On average, it took more than 30 days to charge a White person with a crime committed against a Black person, and years to convict—if it ever got to that.

Realizing that “an injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere,” Black Enterprise looks back at some of the most horrific and gruesome moments in Black history. Soon many will realize history is just a year behind.

Martin Luther King, Jr., Jesse Jackson and Hosea Williams standing on the balcony outside the Lorraine Motel before King was shot.

Martin Luther King, Jr.’s Murder

While visiting Memphis, Tennessee to aid workers in a labor strike, Martin Luther King, Jr. was gunned down while standing on the balcony outside his room at the Lorraine Motel on April 4, 1968. King’s assassin, James Earl Ray, was not found until two months later after an “international manhunt.” Ray—who plotted King’s murder during the first few months of 1968—did not confess to the civil rights leader’s assassination until March of 1969, where he was then sentenced to 99 years in prison. The Alton, Illinois-born killer didn’t see thirty years of his sentence: he died in prison April 23, 1998.

King’s murder “sparked riots and demonstrations in more than 100 cities across the country,” and continues to be the source of motivation to change civil liberties for African Americans worldwide.

Malcolm X rushed to Columbia Presbyterian Hospital after his assassination.

Malcolm X Assassination

At the tender age of 14, Malcolm X, born Malcolm Little, told his English teacher that he wanted to be a lawyer when he grew up. To his dismay, the teacher responded, “One of life’s first needs is for us to be realistic… you need to think of something you can be… Why don’t you plan on carpentry?” Understanding that school meant nothing to Blacks, Malcolm dropped out of school at 15.

After turning to street life, as school was no longer a priority, the Nebraska native was arrested in 1946 and sentenced to 10 years for larceny. While in prison, several siblings visited a 21-year-old Malcolm and explained their decision to join the Nation of Islam. After several visits, the soon-to-be civil leader decided to convert to Islam as well. Thus, in 1952, when released from prison, Malcolm changed his last name to X. He then worked closely with Nation of Islam leader, Elijah Muhammad. “By the early 1960s, Malcolm X had emerged as a leading voice of a radicalized wing of the Civil Rights Movement, presenting an alternative to Dr. Martin Luther King’s vision of a racially integrated society achieved by peaceful means.” But things changed in 1963 when X learned “his hero and mentor had violated many of his own teachings, most flagrantly by carrying on many extramarital affairs.” One year later, Malcolm decided to leave the Nation of Islam, but not everyone was in support of his decision.

On February 21, 1965, three years before Martin Luther King, Jr.’s assassination, Malcolm X was shot 15 times while getting ready to deliver a speech at Audubon Ballroom in Manhattan. The civil rights leader was pronounced dead upon his arrival to Columbia Presbyterian Hospital. Three men were later convicted of his murder– Talmadge Hayer, Norman 3X Butler and Thomas 15X Johnson.Malcolm X Assassination

At the tender age of 14, Malcolm X, born Malcolm Little, told his English teacher that he wanted to be a lawyer when he grew up. To his dismay, the teacher responded, “One of life’s first needs is for us to be realistic… you need to think of something you can be… Why don’t you plan on carpentry?” Understanding that school meant nothing to Blacks, Malcolm dropped out of school at 15.

After turning to street life, as school was no longer a priority, the Nebraska native was arrested in 1946 and sentenced to 10 years for larceny. While in prison, several siblings visited a 21-year-old Malcolm and explained their decision to join the Nation of Islam. After several visits, the soon-to-be civil leader decided to convert to Islam as well. Thus, in 1952, when released from prison, Malcolm changed his last name to X. He then worked closely with Nation of Islam leader, Elijah Muhammad. “By the early 1960s, Malcolm X had emerged as a leading voice of a radicalized wing of the Civil Rights Movement, presenting an alternative to Dr. Martin Luther King’s vision of a racially integrated society achieved by peaceful means.” But things changed in 1963 when X learned “his hero and mentor had violated many of his own teachings, most flagrantly by carrying on many extramarital affairs.” One year later, Malcolm decided to leave the Nation of Islam, but not everyone was in support of his decision.

On February 21, 1965, three years before Martin Luther King, Jr.’s assassination, Malcolm X was shot 15 times while getting ready to deliver a speech at Audubon Ballroom in Manhattan. The civil rights leader was pronounced dead upon his arrival to Columbia Presbyterian Hospital. Three men were later convicted of his murder– Talmadge Hayer, Norman 3X Butler and Thomas 15X Johnson.

Emmett Till's 1954 Christmas photo.

The Untimely Death of Emmett Till

A black man sleeping with a White woman during the Civil Rights Movement was unheard of, but whistling at one was just as bad. Unfortunately, 14-year-old Emmett Louis Till learned that the hard way. During the summer of 1955, Till was visiting his family in Money, Mississippi when he caught himself interacting in an “unacceptably” flirtatious manner with a 21-year-old White woman named Carolyn Bryant in Bryant’s Grocery and Meat Market. Carolyn happened to be the wife of the store’s owner.

Four days later, not realizing the boundaries between blacks and Whites were different down South than in the Midwest, the promising Illinois native found himself in the hands of the White woman’s husband and his half-brother, Roy and J.W. respectively, at 2:30am. After taking Till to the Tallahatchie River, the two men brutally beat and shot him; “tied him up barbed wire to a large metal fan; and shoved his mutilated body into the water.” Emmett’s uncle, Moses Wright, told police his nephew was missing, but three days passed before his body was recovered from the waters.

Addie Mae Collins, 14, Cynthia Wesley, 14, Carole Robertson, 14 and Denise McNair, 11.

The Birmingham, Alabama Church Bombing

On September 15, 1963, Addie Mae Collins, 14, Cynthia Wesley, 14, Carole Robertson, 14 and Denise McNair, 11, were found dead in the basement restroom of Birmingham, Alabama’s 16th Street Baptist Chuch after a bomb exploded through the church corridors. Back then, “Birmingham was the most segregated city in America, and had the longest history of aggressive racial violence. Birmingham was called ‘Bombingham’.”

As a hub of worship among the Black community and meeting grounds for civil rights leaders, the 16th Street Baptist Church became a primary target for Ku Klux Klan members. The bomb went off at 10:22am on the east side of church building, stopping the scheduled 11:00am service. The explosion was the third to happen in 11 days, “just after a federal court order had come down mandating the integration of Alabama’s school system.” Without question, outrage poured throughout the streets of the Heart of Dixie’s largest city. Countless protests and violence swarmed the hearts of thousands as the Black community came together to mourn the loss of four innocent girls.

The FBI was informed of the KKK’s involvement in the church bombing in 1965, specifically focused on Klan leader, Robert E. Chambliss. But because former president J. Edgar Hoover was head of the government organization during the initial investigation, no leads were followed in the case because he didn’t believe in the Civil Rights Movement. It wasn’t until 1977, five years after Hoover’s death, that Alabama Attorney General Bob Baxley chose to reopen the 16 Street Church bombing case. Chambliss was convicted of murder later that year, but didn’t live to see 10 years of sentence. He died in 1985.

Missing poster released for civil rights' workers, James Earl Chaney, Andrew Goodman and Michael Schwerner

The Mississippi Murders of Chaney, Goodman and Schwerner

For two days, James Earl Chaney, Andrew Goodman and Michael “Mickey” Schwerner—now known as the Mississippi civil rights workers—were beaten, tortured, shot and buried by the Mississippi White Knights Ku Klux Klan chapter and officials of Neshoba County, near Meridian, Mississippi. The three men were working together in the Civil Rights Movement, helping Black people register to vote. The chapter’s Imperial Wizard, Sam Bowers, did not like Schwerner’s involvement in Black voter registration and decided he needed to be killed—he was a White civil rights activist defying White supremacy. So on June, 21, 1963, Chaney, a Black man, Goodman and Schwerner were returning from a trip to Philadelphia, MS when they were pulled over for speeding by Cecil Price, Deputy Sherrif and a White Knights’ member. Price held the three men in custody while the Klan prepared to end their Civil Rights brigade.

Even though the deputy sheriff later released Chaney, Schwerner and Goodman, “The three activists were later chased down in their car and cornered in a secluded spot in the woods where they were shot and then buried in graves that had been prepared in advance.” The men were reported missing, but their bodies not immediately found as local authorities were in no mood to aid the investigation.

It wasn’t until June 21, 2005, 41 years after the KKK began to slowly torture the three Mississippi civil rights’ workers, that Edgar Ray Killen, “known as an outspoken white supremacist and part-time Baptist minister,” was convicted of three counts of manslaughter and sentenced to 60 years in prison.

One of James Byrd, Jr.'s only remaining pictures.

The James Byrd, Jr., Texas Murder

“In Texas, they lynch Negroes.” James Farmer, Jr.—played by Denzel Whitaker in the Harpo Films movie, The Great Debaters, 2007—said those five words on stage as he debated the topic of civil disobedience being a moral weapon in the fight for justice. “My teammates and I saw a man strung up by his neck and set on fire…what was this Negro’s crime that he should be hung in a dark forest filled with fog? Was he a thief, a killer or just a Negro…My opponent says, ‘nothing that erodes the rule of law can be moral,’ but there is no rule of law in the Jim Crow South.”

No matter the year, the Jim Crow South lives on, especially in small towns like Jasper, Texas. Nearly 15 years ago, on June 7, 1998, James Byrd, Jr. was murdered for no other reason than the color of his skin. As three men—Shawn Berry, Lawrence Brewer and John King—offered Byrd a ride home, the 49-year-old soon found himself chained to the back of Shawn Berry’s pick-up truck. The men dragged Byrd along an asphalt road for three miles. “Byrd was said to be conscious during most of the harrowing ordeal, finally dying by way of a decapitation after his body hit a culvert in the road.”

While Berry, Brewer and King were immediately arrested, and all men charged with capital murder, the small town of Jasper, Texas—with a current approximate population of 8,000—unhappily found itself in the public eye. It’s reported that King and Brewer met in prison when joining a White supremacy group years before the murder. Shawn Berry was spared the death penalty as evidence proved he was “not” a racist. He currently sits in a Texas prison serving out his life sentence. Brewer and King were both given the death penalty—Brewer was killed by lethal injection in September of 2011. To no public surprise, the night before Brewer’s execution he said, “he felt no remorse and would do it all over again.” King continues to wait for his execution.

Tupac and the Notorious B.I.G. together as friends.

Hip-Hop’s Deadliest Murders: Tupac & Biggie

The murders of two of hip-hop’s greatest, Tupac Amaru Shakur and Christopher “B.I.G.” Wallace, literally divided a nation. Two promising stars—one signed to Death Row Records and the other signed to Bad Boy Records, respectively—who were once friends, died at war with each other just six months apart.

The coastal rap feud began in 1994 when Biggie asked Tupac to come over to Quad Studios in Midtown Manhattan. After walking on the elevator to go upstairs, Pac was jumped, robbed and shot. When B.I.G.’s entourage realized what happened, they rushed downstairs to help Shakur but it was too late. The war between the rappers commenced, as Tupac believed his friend, the Notorious B.I.G., set him up.

The hostility between Tupac Shakur and Christopher Wallace forced America to take sides—you were either Team Pac on the West Coast or Team B.I.G. on the East Coast—there was no in between. Tupac was gunned down on September 6, 1996, outside of the MGM Grand hotel in Las Vegas. He died seven days later at Las Vegas’ University Medical Center. Many blamed Wallace and Combs for Pac’s murder, but no one had sufficient evidence to back up the claims. Then, six months later, on March 9, 1997, the Notorious B.I.G. was hit four times in a drive-by shooting in Los Angeles, CA. “Reports shows that although he was shot four times, it was a single bullet that ended his life…entering the rapper’s right hip, and fatally pierced several organs.”

The streets of New Orleans flooded after Hurricane Katrina.

Hurricane Katrina

The week leading up to Hurricane Katrina, government officials warned the residents of New Orleans, Louisiana and its surrounding areas to evacuate immediately. Forecasts showed a Category 5 hurricane making its way to the Gulf region, and the results weren’t destined to be pretty. But like many people who endure tropical storms on a regular basis, the 450,000-plus N.O. occupants and their counterparts felt no extreme need to get up and go. But on the morning of August 29, 2005, many wished they heeded to government warning. It’s reported that an estimated 80% of residents packed up and left mandated evacuation areas, but as winds blowing between 100 – 140 miles per hour carried across 400 miles of land, an approximate 10,000 people took shelter at New Orleans’ Superdome while thousands of others chose to wait out the storm in their homes.

The relentless rain was one thing, but the overbearing storm surge is what truly helped rip the city of New Orleans and surrounding towns apart. “Eventually, nearly 80 percent of the city was under some quantity of water.” From broken levees and drainage canals to torn up roof tops, many residents never saw such a disaster coming. “The Coast Guard, rescued some 34,000 people in New Orleans alone…Yet the government—particularly the federal government—seemed unprepared for the disaster.” Even former president George W. Bush didn’t recognize the storm’s immediate damage, making him slow to react to such an urgent situation.

A memorial is set up for Sean Bell on the streets of New York.

The Sean Bell Shooting

On November 25, 2006, just hours before 23-year-old Sean Bell’s wedding, undercover police officers fired 50 shots into the would-be groom in the wee hours of the morning. Bell was leaving his bachelor party, which took place at a Club Kalua, a Queens, New York strip club that was under police surveillance.

When leaving Club Kalua, Bell and his friends got into their silver Nissan Altima and turned a corner away from the club where they were“struck by a black unmarked police minivan bearing several plainclothes officers.” In an effort to back up and go the other direction, Bell hit the sidewalk, almost running over one of the undercover officers. Moments later, police responded by letting nearly 50 rounds of bullets rip into Bell’s Altima. The groom-to-be “was shot in the neck, shoulder and right arm, and was taken to Jamaica Hospital Medical Center, where he was pronounced dead.”

Initially charged with manslaughter, Detectives Isnora, Cooper and Oliver were acquitted of all charges in May 2008. Droves of people blocked bridge and tunnel entrances in an effort to shut down the city. Many held signs that read, “We are Sean Bell. This Whole Damn System is Guilty.” And with Reverend Al Sharpton as their leader, the public flocked to 1 Police Plaza “and five other key locations in Manhattan and Brooklyn to protest the acquittal of three cops who killed Bell in a 50-bullet barrage on his wedding day.”

More than one million people sat homeless after Haiti's 7.0 earthquake.

Haiti’s Catastrophic Earthquake

In January 2010, the United States Ambassador to Haiti said the earthquake that took place in that country was a “catastrophe for the Western Hemisphere’s poorest nation.” The country’s capital, Port-au-Prince, suffered excessive damage with bodies and building structure scattered along the ground.

The 7.0-magnitude earthquake was noted as “the most powerful [earthquake] to hit Haiti in a century.” The ground shaking was so intense that its movement “could be felt strongly in Eastern Cuba, more than 200 miles away.” One hundred days after the earthquake hit, the head of the United Nations estimated that at least 300,000 people had died due to horrific disaster, at least 300,000 were wounded and more than one million people were left homeless.

Now, three years later, after numerous donations and aid to rebuild a disaster-stricken country, many are asking, “Where did the money go?” Over the years, there have been a plethora of allegations against contracting companies and charities stating that all donations and aid have been squandered away by those in charge. Michèle Pierre-Louis, Haiti’s former prime minister, told the The New York Times, “When you look at things, you say, ‘Hell, almost three years later, where is the reconstruction’?” He continues, “If you ask what went right and what went wrong, the answer is, most everything went wrong. There needs to be some accountability for all that money.”

While several organizations have been held scrutinized for their conduct, not all are using Haiti’s earthquake as a get rich scheme. The “American Red Cross has spent nearly all of its $486 million in donations…establishing permanent housing,” while the Haitian government “has committed to paying tuition for 900,000 children.” Rebuilding the community and the economy won’t be easy as the earthquake’s total damage equates to $7.8 billion.

A young Trayvon Martin pictured before he was murdered.

We. Are. Trayvon.

The death of Trayvon Martin sent waves of protests across the country, and for the first time in history, America realized it wasn’t safe to wear a hoodie in a suburban neighborhood at night. Just 17 years old, Trayvon Martin was shot and killed in his father’s Retreat at Twin Lakes neighborhood in Sanford, Florida on February 26, 2012, only one year ago.

While walking home from a 7-Eleven, after purchasing skittles and iced tea, neighborhood watch captain, George Zimmerman, noticed the young Miami, FL native looking “suspicious,” and called the police to report the teen’s actions and whereabouts. As police told the 28-year-old neighborhood captain to wait until help arrived, Zimmerman decided to take matters into his own hands and confront Martin before police emerged on the scene.

When the 911 call was made to report Trayvon’s “peculiar” behavior, the dispatcher asked George if he was following the kid. When he replied, “Yes,” he was then told, “We don’t need you to do that.” But as history shows, Zimmerman didn’t listen.

After Martin was shot dead, the neighborhood watch captain was brought in for questioning for five hours, only to be released uncharged. It wasn’t until 48 days after Trayvon’s death that Zimmerman—who had been hiding out for weeks—was charged with second-degree murder on April 12, 2012. While there have been plenty of shenanigans pulled by George and his family since his arrest to obtain the public’s sympathy card, a trial date has finally been set for June 13 of this year.

But through all the hate and all the tears, the Martin’s family spokesperson, Ryan Julison, made one point very clear: “It’s irrelevant to what happened on Feb. 26, does not change material facts of the situation, specifically that had George Zimmerman not left his vehicle and heeded the police dispatcher’s guidance, we wouldn’t be here today.”

Source: http://www.blackenterprise.com/functional/black-history-month/most-devastating-moments-in-black-history/?utm_source=twitterfeed&utm_medium=facebook&utm_campaign=tctcfacebookpage

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