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Ready to write off America? Don't!

Sunday, May 09, 2021

History, despite its wrenching pain, cannot be unlived, but if faced with courage, need not be lived again.

WE are reminded of those seminal words by late African-American poet Maya Angelou upon hearing that the governor of Maryland, United States, is set to posthumously pardon 34 black people who were lynched after being denied legal due process between 1854 and 1933 in the state.

The Associated Press yesterday quoted a spokesman for the Republican governor, Larry Hogan as saying that the sweeping pardon was the first of its kind by a governor in the US, in response to a petition by the Maryland Lynching Memorial Project and students at Loch Raven Technical Academy.

It will be signed at an event honouring Mr Howard Cooper, a 15-year-old who was dragged from a jailhouse and hanged from a sycamore tree by a mob of white men in 1885, before his attorneys could file an appeal of a rape conviction hurriedly reached by an all-white jury in minutes.

The AP said Mr Cooper's body was left hanging “so angry white residents and local train passengers could see his corpse” and pieces of the rope were later given away as souvenirs. No one was ever held accountable for the boy's lynching.

We are told there have been 40 documented lynching cases in Maryland, including some in which the victims were not yet arrested, and so are not part of the legal system and therefore not eligible for Mr Hogan's posthumous clemency.

Racial lynching is part of the terrible legacy of racism in America, where 75 per cent of those killed in that barbaric manner were blacks. The lynchings were often a source of entertainment for people leaving church on a Sunday afternoon.

Of course, this pardon will not erase that stain on US history, but it is part, even though a small step, of some recent developments showing that the country is trying to come to grips with that terrifying past.

The recent murder conviction of a white Minneapolis police officer who killed a black man, Mr George Floyd, by kneeling on his neck for up to nine minutes, is another rarity in light of the reality that white cops routinely got away with killing innocent black people.

Furthermore, we take some solace from reports in last Wednesday's edition of this newspaper that a Chicago committee voted unanimously to rename an iconic street in that city after its hitherto unrecognised black founder, Mr Jean Baptiste Pointe DuSable who was born in Haiti.

It is noteworthy that the effort to honour Mr DuSable, more than two centuries after his extraordinary achievements in founding America's third-largest city, is spearheaded by Jamaican-born Mr Ephraim Martin, a trailblazer himself. The full city council will vote on the resolution on May 26, 2021.

On the downside, racially motivated voting restrictions, widely regarded as a backlash to 2020's historic voter turnout that favoured the election of President Joseph Biden, have led to 361 Bills in 47 states as of March — a 43 per cent increase in little more than a month.

The restrictions vary from limiting early voting to the ridiculous ban on people bringing food and water to relatives waiting in line at polling stations, and are expected to affect mostly black voters, famous for supporting the Democratic Party.

The struggle continues, but there is light at the end of the proverbial tunnel.