Prison Is Another Word for Lynching

And the only way to unconnect it is to acknowledge it. But to see all the exhibits and the characters, that was something. I was trying to show people that we are not living up to our true potential. But for those that want to play the game of ignorance, all those people have to do is look at the slave trade and follow the historical trail. Ashamed. I have a perfect example in my book, Henry Hays, who was a KKK member who killed a black man in a hate crime and was executed in 1997. We can move forward. If we all had everything we need, what is there to be racist about? Fifteen years after he was convicted, the nonprofit group Equal Justice Initiative took on his case. ¤
SARAH KNOPP: In the Legacy Museum, there’s an exhibit where a person sits down in a prison visiting booth, picks up a phone, and a video recording of you is there to talk to them. I used my imagination to endure that hell, and to help others endure. But they were getting smarter and smarter, and they thought up a new way. But, yes, it was very painful to be back in that situation. What it taught me is that, when we are all equal, what is there to be racist about? and Rosa Parks and the sacrifices they made, and now I go through there and see myself in the same museum. Men began to see themselves differently, if we were able to let our pride and self-interest go and think about what we have to offer. It was, “Hey Ray! ¤
Sarah Knopp is program director of the Cultural Freedom Program in Santa Fe, New Mexico. It didn’t hit me until one day when I realized that no one on Death Row called each other nigger. How was it to record that? But after I got over that anger, I decided to live my life. I can see the division even more, I can see the racism even sharper. She has been an activist against the death penalty and for social and economic justice since 1997. She is a former high school teacher in Los Angeles Unified School District. We have this — people will believe it now. So that the country could see — this is a man, he breathes like I do, his blood is like mine in his veins. Hey John! Let’s deal with history. I hope everyone looks at themselves and says, “Hey, I can do better.” If America doesn’t learn to love each other, we will destroy each other. It said, “No negro allowed. The fact that I’m able to go around the country and tell my story, and to ask hard questions, and all in the name of justice. You crack it, and then cook it, and then you can eat it. The museum opens with a look at the family separation on which the wealth of this country was built: a map shows where slave traders’ offices were located and helps us to understand what it must have been like to be sold as a commodity on the spot that the museum is erected. I decided to convince men around me that it may not be the life we want to live, but we could live a life of dignity. How would racism still exist? When you got out in 2015 and I asked you how you survived with your mind and your joy intact, what did you say? How much money was made off the kidnapping and rape? You sometimes say that things happen for a reason, and then you’re quick to add that we don’t have to like the reason. Black people wasn’t here, we need to teach them that. How have you seen the memorial impact people? It’s been proven to me on the Row that people can treat each other with respect and equality. People who are working to accumulate stuff haven’t been told that when you leave this world, all the stuff is going to be left behind. Many people, especially white Americans, are ignorant or willfully ignorant about what lynching meant in this country. Actually I don’t believe in the concept “mass incarceration,” it’s just a new form of slavery. ANTHONY RAY HINTON: It brought back a lot of painful memories, memories about 30 years of being locked away in hell, but I think general public needs an idea about what it is to be behind bars, and I hope this helps people to understand it. Talk about what you saw on the Row. And once I convinced my mind that I needed to escape, I never did look back. I truly have to believe that it happened for a reason, and the reason is so that we could end the death penalty. No matter where you are, no matter how low you are, you’re not too low to reach out. But it took another 15 years and an order from the US Supreme Court to set him free. Once we accept the truth, then we can go on loving each other the way we were meant to. I think this country needs truth, about every aspect of things. I only gave up 30 years of my life — some of them gave up their whole lives for justice. If you have faith, then you truly believe that God will work it out. Hey Henry!” Everyone had a name, and we treated each other with respect. I know for a fact that it’s possible to end racism, but are we willing to do the things we need to do for that to happen? This country was built on separating families. Every young person I know had the same reaction: “Wait, you’re telling me that this guy was hung for asking for a receipt? The museum’s dedication coincided with the release of Hinton’s book. I was mad at God and the world. If you’re drowning, does it matter the color of the hand that will reach out to you? I just don’t believe black people are committing crimes at that rate. He and a team of historians plied the living memories of communities across the South (and much further north than you would expect). Right here in Montgomery we have a museum and memorial where people can look at history, and just think, and take their time. Kids don’t need a pep talk, they just need someone to hug them and say, “Have a nice day.” It’s the little things. His book, The Sun Does Shine: How I Found Life and Freedom on Death Row with Lara Love Hardin, released in March, climbed to the top five on The New York Times best-seller list. The Klan got smarter — they took off the white robe and put on the black robe. Then I got to thinking, who was the person who came up with that? And how cruel people can be to each other. At one point we had affirmative action in this country. What if everyone could do their own thing, but lived in equality? How do you make sense of what happened to you? His lawyer, Bryan Stevenson, was also in the midst of research about lynchings in the United States from the end of the Reconstruction period to 1950. It’s a case of living in denial. I can’t even fathom people not seeing the connections. I hope one person will walk away from that part of the museum and think about what they would do. And these are people who came in off the street as the most racist people you would want to meet. I often tell people that first a chicken has to lay an egg. Every man wore the same clothes, ate the same food, showered in the same place. I would love to experiment if everyone had the same quality house and car, and same access to clothes. You have to teach a child hate or love just like you teach them to count. Are we racist, do you think, because we compete to have a better job and a better house? But to go through the museum and see Martin Luther King Jr. I think I told you my faith, and through my faith I was able to use my mind to travel. I do the math: black people make up 27 percent of the general population in Alabama. I have seen people come out disgusted. And what I have to think about him is that his parents failed him, never taught him anything about love. The thing that’s had the most impact on me is that the world is not the same as when I went in. Black people were minding their own business in Africa, and white men showed up in ships to bring them to America against their will to work them for free labor. I’m hoping that my book will make people say, “If this guy can do it, and he’s in the bottom of the pit, then I can do better and I must do better.” I truly believe that’s why I went through that 30 years of hell, so people can see that only through love can we survive. I wanted people to think about that question that I ask in the interview: “What would you do? I refuse to believe that we’re claiming to believe that we can’t see. I think that people are waking up and understanding it. They hired experts to prove that the ballistics evidence — the only evidence used to convict him — was bogus. What was it like for you the first time you went through the museum? “Hey, if you need me, I’m here for you.” The book was to show that my mother taught me love and compassion. By just observing the Row, here’s what I saw. On Death Row, I was able to give a smile where there was no smile, offer love where there was no love. It was mind-blowing. I could imagine the dinner plates that they bought us to be a piled up with a big old juicy hamburger and fries, or a steak. So I keep grinding every day to get up and speak all over the country, and go change one heart and mind through my speaking engagements. That’s how we’re going to move forward. And we all need to be free. What if everyone at Microsoft did different jobs but got paid the same? But the majority of people come out happy that we have this because we can move forward. What about the land you’re drinking your tea on right now? I met people that I never thought I would meet. They haven’t seen it, didn’t understand what people died for. Most Americans, white Americans in particular, don’t understand the unbroken historical chain that links slavery, lynching, Jim Crow, and mass incarceration. America doesn’t want to bring up that point, does it? It bothers me. But if I can sacrifice 30 years to end the death penalty, then my sacrifice wasn’t in vain. Even a person without an education can see that it’s all connected. What about all the money made off the sweat and blood of slavery? I make sense out of the fact that I truly believe that it happened to me so that I could come out and share what happened to me with this nation. When a child is taught love they will never intentionally make another human being suffer. It makes me feel like I must do more. But here is what I learned from him: racism has to be taught. Well, for one thing I don’t buy the theory that they don’t understand it. Justice not just for me but for every man and woman who breathes. AUGUST 15, 2018

ANTHONY RAY HINTON spent 30 years on Alabama’s death row for a crime that he did not commit. What would you do if it were you serving time on a wrongful conviction?” People don’t think about a situation until they’re in it. You look at the egg. The Legacy Museum in Montgomery, Alabama, opened earlier this year, telling the story of the links between slavery, lynching, Jim Crow segregation, and mass incarceration. I’ve seen people come and I overhear them. Young people need to be told the truth. Are you telling me that this other guy was hung on the word of a white woman who said that he made a pass at her? Is that why you wrote the book the way you did? I thought about how they used mass incarceration as a modern form of slavery. Then kids will start having to ask their parents: Why mama, why daddy? And also rejoicing in the fact that we don’t live in that anymore. Are you telling me that this woman was hung because they decided to hang her husband, and thought they might as well hang her right along with him?” I haven’t seen people come out with rage and madness, but I have seen people come out deeply disappointed that this had happened. My mind and my body were in England, having tea with the queen, meeting some of the most beautiful women in the world. Your mother and father have to teach it to you. Every man had the same things. They are part of the same story. You and I have talked about whether it’s possible to end racism. But that’s a tremendous process it has to go through for some good to come. Your mind is a thing that no one can stop you from using. For some people, this may be the only justice that their family every gets. How do you help people to understand it? What does this country need? One sign on display sticks out in my mind above all the others. Every day I was gone somewhere. But I’m still hopeful. But in prison we’re 54 percent. The young people really didn’t know. Why did this happen? What are the most impactful things that you’ve done since you’ve been out? Your ancestors did it, but we can move forward now. ¤
Banner image by Amanda Slater. We can do much better in this world, and we all have a role to play. How could God let me be locked in a cage for a crime I didn’t commit? Tell the truth. I’m a believer that the truth will set you free. I’ve seen that work. When we are born, we don’t come into this world thinking anything. I hope people read about him in my book. I don’t agree and won’t believe that we are so ignorant or dumb. I think that people relate to your story because it’s about love and friendship above all else. We can all reach out and help each other, if not in money, then in other ways. I didn’t think that way for the first three years. Some of us have to sacrifice. Imagine if I were your father. No apes in this building.” It got me to thinking about what do we need to do to be treated as human beings. I can remember when it was just Equal Justice Initiative’s parking deck.