An American Secret, Cynthia Carr
I was 17 when I learned that my grandfather had been a Klansman. I didn’t want to know more then, and I didn’t want to talk about it. The news wasn’t just shameful; it was frightening. I wondered if I could find out too much, if Grandpa could become someone I wouldn’t love. […]
I was an adult by the time I saw the infamous photo taken in Marion the night of Aug. 7, 1930: two black men in bloody, tattered clothing hang from a tree, and below them stand the grinning, gloating, proud and pleased white folks. I knew from family lore that my grandfather had walked down to the square that night. I looked anxiously for his face in the photo. I didn’t find it. Still, I felt certain that he had condoned those deaths.
The shame I felt about all this pushed me into a familiar form of racism — relating to black people as “those we have wronged.” Guilt just builds another barrier. I told no one for more than 20 years. […]
That set me on a new course of telling, ultimately, quite a few people, and I couldn’t help noticing the difference between how black people and white people responded. Whites were often surprised. Some even gasped. But I have yet to meet an African-American who so much as batted an eye. And I’ve been deeply saddened by the implications of that.
So, can I just say how much it pisses me off to see narratives of the impact of lynching & Jim Crow framed around how it affects the descendants of the killers? These kinds of books are getting all this attention & critical acclaim & generating serious income for the authors. The possibility that the descendant of my great uncle’s killers might make money off his death is nauseating & yet I am quite certain they are more likely to get attention for talking about their family “shame” than any discussion of the pain their ancestors caused to my family.