Monday, February 11, 2019

Hate in My Family


My great-grand father, Jackson “Jack” James, murdered an African American freedman in broad daylight in the center of Florence, Texas sometime between the end of the Civil War and 1893. 

My grandfather, John James, told me the story on Thanksgiving 1972 as I tape recorded a part of my family’s oral history. 

Jack James, a Confederate infantryman, believed that the ex-slave insulted his mother, my great-great-grandmother.  Apprehending the man, he marched him into the town and shot him, execution style.  My grandfather, John reported that his father characterized the target of his hatred as “a mean n_____.”

Jack James went to trial and was promptly acquitted by an all-white jury.  In those days Texas juries never convicted white men of crimes against black folks.  Sadly, such verdicts still remain very rare today.

Jack James died in 1893, just eight years after my grandfather was born. 

The Confederate memorial, now located in Dallas’ Pioneer Park, came to our city just three years after the elder James died. 

I’m in favor of the removal of the CSA memorial statues not only because of what they represent and present today, but also and mainly because of the atmosphere, the ambiance they honored, celebrated and perpetuated during the era of their creation--the horrid era of Jim Crow.

The intentions of preservationists might be noble in some cases today.  Those who erected the monuments just 30 years after the Civil War, and about the time of Jack James' crime, had no such noble motivation.  

No, this tribute to the South's Lost Cause sought to embed in our value system the hatred, bias and oppression that sustained slavery and the so-called “Southern Way of Life." 

My grandfather was a hero of mine.  

But he experienced the curse of racism, planted by his father in his soul, ensuring that it captured his entire worldview. 

Indeed, the sins of the fathers are visited upon their children. Still, the cycle of hate and ignorance can be broken.  In any case,  these monuments to hatred and white supremacy in the era of Jim Crow serve no good purpose except to offer us all the opportunity to do what is right, faithful and true by everyone in our city.