Standing up for mouthy women
7/26/2019, 6 a.m.
Mary Turner was lynched on May 19, 1918, because she dared to raise her voice.
Her husband, Hayes Turner, was among 13 people lynched in two weeks in and around Valdosta, Ga.
The lynchings took place because a brutal white man, who was known to abuse workers so severely that he was only able to attract workers by getting them through the convict labor system, beat the wrong black man too many times.
Sidney Johnson shot and killed the brutal Hampton Smith and, in response, the white people of the area started apprehending, beating and lynching black men believed to be associated with Sidney Johnson, even though many of those lynched were not.
Mrs. Turner was 19 years old and eight months pregnant when her husband was lynched. She openly denounced the lynchings and threatened to have the men who killed her husband arrested.
After her lynching, an investigative reporter stated that she was lynched because she made “unwise remarks.” The mob, it was reported, “took exception to her remarks as well as her attitude.” Her “defiant voice” was the impetus for mob retaliation.
The mob action was particularly brutal. Mrs. Turner was hung by her ankles and lowered face down from a tree. Her clothing was set afire while she was alive. When she was dead, one of the mobsters slit her belly open and her fetus came out, landing in a pool of blood. Then the sick and brutal white men crushed the infant’s skull.
Too often, black women have been cautioned to be silent, to be demure, not to rock the boat. Mrs. Turner’s lynching reminds us that mouthy black women often suffer the consequence of their speaking out.
The 45th president of the United States stands in the shadow of the men who silenced Mrs. Turner with his vicious and vile attacks on black women. From Congresswomen Maxine Waters and Frederica Wilson to journalists April Ryan, Abby Phillip and Yamiche Alcindor, this man neither has the grace nor the gravitas to interact with these brilliant and amazing black women.
Now here he goes again spewing his filth. He suggested that four new members of Congress, the self-described “Squad” of Democratic Congresswomen Ayanna Pressley of Massachusetts, Ilhan Omar of Minnesota, Rashida Tlaib of Michigan and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York, “go back to where they came from.” He amplified and attacked the women so vociferously and inaccurately that one of the mobs, I mean crowds, that attended one of his rallies began to chant, “Send her back.”
Three of the four members of The Squad were born in the United States. Congresswoman Omar, whose family came to the United States as refugees from Somalia when she was a child, is a naturalized citizen.
The president is out of line and out of order, but that’s nothing new. What is new is that he’s stopped dog-whistling his racism and now just shouts it out. Five days after his offensive tweets, he claims he did not incite his crowd and instead tried to shut the racist chants down. Films of the mob at his rally show otherwise.
Congresswoman Omar and the other members of the Squad have had their lives threatened, sometimes by identifiable Trump supporters. We can’t expect No. 45 to repudiate the threats. After all, he thought there were “good people on both sides” in Charlottesville when Heather Heyer was killed by a white supremacist in 2017. So we aren’t surprised that he let the vitriolic chants of “send her back” to go on for more than 13 seconds before they died down naturally.
If something happens to Congresswoman Omar, our 45th president will be responsible. If something happens to any of The Squad, it will be the result of our putrid president and the silent Republicans who are reluctant to tell this man he is wrong. It took a full day after his offensive “go back” tweet for a handful of Republicans to speak up and say something.
Like the white men who lynched Mrs. Turner, our president “takes exception to her remarks as well as her attitude.” Without accusing President Trump of lynching, one can accuse President Trump of being a racist and hostile to black women. Congresswoman Omar isn’t the first he has gone after, and she won’t be the last.
Mary Turner chafed at her husband’s lynching and she paid the ultimate price. But the story of her lynching should strengthen us all. We must surround The Squad with support. We need more mouthy women to challenge patriarchal, predatory white supremacy. There must not be another Mary Turner.
The writer is an economist and author.