This is a tale of four Georges. The first George, George Santayana (aka Jorge Agustín Nicolás Ruiz de Santayana y Borrás) famously penned, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” Our second George is Gorge Zimmerman, the erstwhile Latino neighborhood watchman who tragically killed Trayvon Martin, a seventeen year-old African-American. And the third and fourth Georges are George White and George Black. Ironically, White was black and Black was white. Those involved with the George Zimmerman case would do well to remember the tragic history of George White and George Black or, as George Santayana wrote, they will be condemned to repeat it . . .
The Lynching of George White
On June 15, 1903, George F. White, a Negro field hand, was arrested by George A. Black, the newly minted chief of the Wilmington Delaware police department. White was charged with the assault and rape of Helen S. Bishop. Miss Bishop was white. Like Trayvon Martin, she was just seventeen years-old. She died of her wounds a day later and charges against George White were upgraded to murder.
George White was remanded to the County Workhouse to await sentencing. The white community of Wilmington roiled, demanding justice. The black community was also in upheaval over the arrest, believing George White to have been “railroaded.” Sensing trouble, Chief Black closed local black saloons to calm those who were threatening to “load up and hunt trouble.”
The sensationalist media of the day did its part to stoke the flames of controversy with headlines such as “Fiend Assaults Young Woman” and referring to George White as, “the negro ravisher and murder.”
The most overtly provocative actions were the sermons of Reverend Robert A. Elwood of the Wilmington Olivet Presbyterian Church. On Sunday, June 21st, he delivered an inflammatory sermon in which he held leaves stained by Helen Bishop’s blood taken from the crime scene. He demanded immediate justice. That night he addressed a mob of 3,000 and fired them up with equally intense rhetoric.
One day later, the night of June 22nd, a mob (estimates range from several hundred to three thousand) approached the workhouse and demanded that George White be handed over. They were armed with clubs, rifles, and dynamite. Chief George Black informed that mob that anyone who attempted to enter the prison would be shot. However, after warning the crowd he consulted with his senior officers and they jointly decided not to use their weapons against the mob in order to avoid “a great loss of life.”
Consequently, the mob overran the jail, pulled George White from his cell and hauled him into the night. They bound George White’s hands and feet and dragged him to the scene of the crime. Under extreme duress, White confessed to robbing and raping the “Bishop girl,” and then slitting her throat so she would not report him to the police.
Following the coerced confession the mob dragged George White to a field where a pyre was constructed from bales of hay and split rail fencing, and he was burned to death.
The deputy coroner who investigated the scene of the lynching found little evidence of George White’s body due to the intensity of the fire. And because hundreds of “relic hunters” had visited the spot and had removed “ghastly mementos.” The Daily Star of Fredericksburg, Virginia, reported that “One man carried away a foot that had not been consumed.”
The High-tech Lynching of George Zimmerman
The George Zimmerman affair has turned into a high-tech lynching. Taking sensationalistic headlines one step further, today’s soulless media edited audio tapes of George Zimmerman talking to a police dispatcher to make it sound like Zimmerman was a racist. This turned a local controversy into a nationwide “hate crime” furor.
We have two high-profile opportunistic men of the cloth – Reverends Sharpton and Jackson – who have swooped in and enflamed the growing mobs of protesters. Sharpton threatened Sanford authorities, “You are risking going down as the Birmingham and Selma of the 21st century.” Although they give lip service to peaceful demonstration, a crowd in a self-righteous frenzy is not so easily controllable.
Although not concluded, the George Zimmerman high-tech lynching is in danger of repeating the events of 1903 in Wilmington, Delaware. Despite a reported $10,000 bounty placed upon his head by The New Black Panthers Party, I don’t expect this to end in Zimmerman’s death. More likely, it will end with his acquittal.
Then the mobs will feel that the system, once again, failed them. They will feel justified to riot in the streets, destroying cars, homes, and businesses. And we may see innocent people being beaten like Reginald Denny (the white truck driver who was severely beaten during the 1992 L.A. “Rodney King” riots). Or worse.
In the end it doesn’t matter whether a mob is made up of lynching white racists, wronged minorities, English Premier League hooligans, NAZI Party Brown Shirts, anti-Mormon Missourians, flash mob robbers, or frightened Transylvania villagers. Mob rule is not democracy. Mob intimidation does not lead to not justice.
While Reverends Elwood, Sharpton, and Jackson, took the opportunity of these tragic killings to enflame racial tensions and incite their followers, one reverend did not play to the mob. Rev. Dr. E.A. Bishop, father of slain seventeen year-old Helen. Reverend Bishop called on the people of Wilmington not to try to avenge his daughter’s murder. After George White was lynched, Reverend Bishop “deplored the mob law that had terminated the life of his daughter’s assailant.”
Let the lesson learned from our history be the example of Reverend E.A. Bishop.