Remembering George Bush and Building Social Memory in the Face of Anti-Woke Legislation and Anti-CRT Backlash
Thiss is the complete text of the speech presented by Keslie Spottsville at the Boone County Courthouse Plaza on, September 7, 2023.
Greetings and thank you for coming to share this day of remembrance and marker placement for teenager, George Bush, who was lynched from the former Boone County Courthouse that stood here in 1889. I would like to acknowledge and thank all city officials, community leaders, clergy, students, and the community-at-large for attending and recognizing the need for building our collective social memory and telling the story of racial terror in this country.
If you were here last year for the Soil Collection ceremony, thank you for returning; and if this is your first time attending and hearing the uncomfortable truths that brought us here, please buckle up, as I explain how we are all tasked to be social-memory builders for this community and nation.
The Community Remembrance Project-MO was formed after memorializing lynching victim Levi Harrington in Kansas City, Missouri, in 2018. Glenn North, Geri Sanders (both formerly with The Black Archives of Mid-America) and Staci Pratt (formerly with Missourians Against the Death Penalty) led the charge to remember Mr. Harrington and collect soil as the only EJI documented lynched individual in Jackson County, Missouri. This ceremony took place during the same month that the opening of the Legacy Museum and Peace and Justice Memorial opened in Montgomery, Alabama. I attended that opening and was greatly energized to come back to help expand the work of remembering the over 60 EJI documented lynched individuals in the state of Missouri.
The Missouri coalition began with a cross-section of individuals, including city employees, non-profit leaders, creatives, activists, and community members, as we met to create a strategy to collect the soil for all of these victims in a Soil Collection Exhibit to be housed at the Black Archives of Mid-America (BAKC).
Leadership eventually changed to our current core of individuals, which include Elyse Max and Michelle Smith of MADP along with Dr. Carmaletta Williams, CEO of BAKC. In 2019, Brad Boyd-Kennedy drove from Columbia to attend one of our monthly meetings and expressed his commitment to creating a coalition in Columbia.
I immediately offered my support, and as a graduate of Mizzou, I was committed to helping build a Columbia Coalition.
PILLARS AND PRINCIPALS
Although initially slow-going, due to the COVID crisis, Brad, along with Nick and Candace, Preston, Brittany, Wiley, and later Annabelle, Valerie, Melissa, and Karen became the core of the coalition. They facilitated the Soil Collection Ceremony for Mr. James Scott two years ago and have held education events to create community awareness about the history of racial terror lynchings, as well as the past-to-present manifestations of systemic white supremacy in this nation.
The Equal Justice Initiative, for over 35 years, has built its advocacy around criminal justice reform and death penalty abolition. MADP does similar advocacy work in Missouri, and they, along with BAKC, make up the core organizations for Community Remembrance Project-Missouri.
Remembrance, reconciliation and repair are the pillars and principles of the coalition’s work. These pillars are multi-layered in substance and form, as they run a continuous thread from the past to the present.
So last year, I went into depth about what these pillars of Remembrance, Reconciliation and Repair look like for CRP-MO. This year, I decided to really drill down and into what truth telling actually looks like, and how we all can practice it daily within our circles of influence. So what implications do our actions as social memory-builders have in relation to the current political climate today? In light of the national push back by certain factors to suppress the truth about U.S. history, via ”anti-woke” legislation, as well as anti-CRT sentiment and activism, I felt it important to impart some takeaway tools, education and critical analysis (cause and effect) about what hanging a Black (and poor) teenage boy from a courthouse window meant for him and his family, as well as what it tells us about the social and psychological personality of the white onlookers and murderers.
We have to question what it says about the community (which means the individuals within the community) and their collective humanity? Racial terror lynchings happened across the country. Critical thinking makes us ask what this kind of horror and brutality tells us about using racial constructs as a means to perpetuate racial hierarchies of white supremacy and advantage over Afrikan-descended people? How does this false racial construction manifest in the larger society today, and what is the fruit of those manifestations for descendants of formerly enslaved people today? These questions and others are what are posed and answered with the theories of critically analyzing race in America.
CRT: WHAT IT REALLY MEANS
First, let’s get a real understanding of what Critical Race Theory actually means, and why it is relevant to our gathering today. How it impacts all of our lives — and particularly Black lives — and how the reality of CRT actually explains how, or more clearly, why, George Bush, James Scott, and over 4,800 human beings around this nation also suffered the same terror, torture, and ultimately, murder. (We know that thousands more were lynched without documentation.)
Now, what is CRT actually? Folks everywhere throw around this concept; when we know that almost NO ONE is actually able to define it, when asked. Civil rights attorney and anti-racist scholar, Derrick Bell, developed Critical Race Theory. Others who also pioneered critical thought include Kimberle Crenshaw. Cheryl Harris, Richard Delgado, and Mari Matsuda.
Bell’s “interest-convergence” idea states that Black people achieve civil rights victories only when white and Black interests converge. Its focus is on structural racism and the fact that civil rights legislation from the mid-70s-80s failed to bring about the structural changes that it promised. Hence, Affirmative Action was created to more fully implement the 13th, 14th, and 15th Amendments (also known as the “Second Constitution”) that was written to correct the harms inflicted on formerly enslaved people and their descendants.
Unfortunately, the legislation meant to correct the past harms of discrimination for Black people was twisted to benefit every group except the actual descendants of the formerly enslaved. We must also understand that the original “Affirmative Action Plan” was actually a plan for white people. When even lightly examined, we see that the majority slave-holding Founding Fathers were white men who wrote the Constitution to benefit themselves and their property-holding status. They crafted legislation to benefit and perpetuate their wealth, as white women and children benefitted directly. White Affirmative Action gave white immigrants land via the Homestead Act at the very same time that emancipated Afrikan people were being denied 40 acres and a mule, and they were set out of plantations with no resources and no land or money to build their lives.
The wealth that the Homestead Act of 1866 generated for whites still benefits over 46 million white Americans today, according to Dr. Sandy Darrity and A. Kirsten Mullen in From Here to Equality. These racist policies were intentionally crafted to advantage whites and disadvantage Blacks, and are highlighted in the books The Color of Law and The Color of Money.
Today we have legislation that, as Kimberle Crenshaw states, “is affected and exacerbated by the efforts to eliminate race-conscious education, race-conscious policy-making, and race-conscious social justice advocacy.” She further states that current policymakers have “appropriated and gentrified talking about race to fashion it into what they call a cultural war in their efforts to make America Great Again”… and “that such a campaign would eliminate the ideas and practices that would deliver us from this racial tyranny.”
Therefore, if these factions actually had their way, we would not be gathered here today to remember teenager George Bush. I must emphasize his age, as I take you on this quick remembrance, reconciliation and repair journey, because hopefully, it will add increased importance to all of our work within in our communities.
A prime example of this anti-woke legislation is the current Texas House Bill 3979 (commonly called Texas’ Critical Race Theory law) seeks to limit the manner and extent to which students may learn about issues of race, sex, sexism and their relationship with American history. It hopes to make it criminal to ask (in public schools) if racism has always been present as an operating principal in a country that declared itself to be founded on the idea that all men were born equal, all while the majority white men/Founding Fathers were enslaving Black persons.
CRT was expanded to include other theoretical principals such as unconscious racism and, Kimberle Crenshaw’s retrenchment principal. An example of this is when, after Emancipation, the 1st Reconstruction was “retrenched” with the white supremacy of Jim Crow laws. We are now experiencing this “retrenchment” again, because the awareness of the always-existing police brutality and murder of unarmed Black people in this country increased over the past decade, producing challenge to the “business as usual” practices within police departments and the racial and economic injustice of white supremacy that Black people incur throughout all levels of society.
This white nationalist agenda to suppress truth telling about structural racism, as well as all of the related past-to- present manifestations of it, is what these legislative proposals are about, even though as Crenshaw states, “racial justice is a value that the majority of Americans still say that they support.”
REMEMBERING, RECONCILING, AND REPAIRING
So in, truth, the actual “practice of CRT” is what we are doing at CRP-MO and around the state when we say that we are “remembering, reconciling and repairing” this American history. In reality, teaching about the racist history of this nation is what The Legacy Museum and Peace & Justice Memorial are doing in a most effective and powerful way.
Therefore, our remembering and memorializing George Bush is not an emotive exercise for “giving sympathy and guilt-ridding,” it is the opportunity for all of us to more deeply understand the underpinnings of a nation built out of the extreme hypocrisy, moral depravity, psychopathy, and spiritual deficit of white people.
Will investigating and reflecting upon the implications that of all this entails be uncomfortable? Absolutely! But did Germany shirk and suppress teaching about the Jewish Holocaust, fearing that German students would be made uncomfortable? Absolutely not! The question is not even posed because it is preposterous! What we must understand is that omitting Black peoples from classroom textbooks, except for a one-page summary as slaves saved by the “dreaming“ Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. is that it has negatively impacted our Black collective sense of worth and value.
THIS is discomfort! What we also fail to understand, is that presenting history in this dishonest way negatively affects ALL children — including white ones. It specifically prevents white children from developing empathy, a defining characteristic of what it means to be human, which continues to perpetuate apathy and a sense of superiority in them through to adulthood. That apathy is then reflected in all spaces of society and throughout our political and legal systems.
So during these terror lynchings, we know that white children were brought to these spectacles to “learn” about their (false) superiority as white people, that they had power over Black people, so much so that they could kill them without punishment. What did George Bush himself understand, about being a Black boy in Columbia, MO? He more than likely had been taught that he was kill-able either directly or indirectly. As Crenshaw states, “Our kill-ability is an enduring feature of Black life.”
We now know, thanks to the massive research and book, The Price For Their Pound of Flesh by Dr. Daina Ramey Berry, how enslaved people prior to and after Emancipation, as well as free Black people of the time, felt about their plight upon their deaths. Thanks to her work, we know that Black people were aware of their commodification from birth to death, and beyond — whether it was due to old age, sickness, lynching or murder.
CAN YOU IMAGINE …?
Very often family members of lynched victims were not allowed to lay their loved ones to rest. Their bodies were sold to cadaver traffickers for dissection and tanning, where they continued to make money for white people — even after death. George Bush was more than likely one of those victims because the account says that white men pinned a sign on his hanging body daring anyone to cut him down. Can you, for a moment, imagine your teenage son, being hung by the neck in this way? And then being left to hang without recovering his body? You can’t, can you? Have you ever thought about what happened to Black and poor white people’s bodies in this nation in the 1700 and 1800s after their deaths? Or about what happens to many of them even today?
The underground market of cadaver trafficking and organ theft is alive and well.
So as we move to the current day, we as Black parents practice CRT by giving our children “the talk.” This difficult education is about the reality that they can suffer punishment and violence because of who they are and for living-while-Black in this nation. That they are vulnerable and powerless at the hands of the police, as well as the judicial and medical systems (from birthing mothers to incarcerated persons), and that their lives are always in jeopardy. Have you ever had such a talk with your children as a white parent? More than likely, not.
We know that Black people being victimized by harsh and disparate sentencing, being held in prison without trials, being victimized by police brutality and living in inhumane prison conditions is happening by the thousands to Black people today. We have just passed the month of August, which is known as “Black August” in activist spaces, because we remember those individuals who protested against the inhumane prison conditions in Attica prison, and other prisons around the country. (We also remember those who are sentenced for life as well as those sentenced to death.)
They were gravely aware the these systems were set up to fail them as poor Black men, and that they were made to survive and live by whatever means possible. They were purposely locked out of the economic system, out of jobs due to racism, which would ultimately land them in prison — as designed. There, they are again exploited by the white power structure; as thousands of white people have jobs and earn income off of the traumas of institutionalized Black people. We know that these torture chambers called prisons were and are grave human right violations, and are simply a contemporary form of enslavement, provided for by the exception in the 13th Amendment.
REAPING THE ‘BENEFITS’
We understand that poor people of all races are made to subsist in these horrific conditions, and we understand that Black poverty started the moment our ancestors were stolen from our Mother Continent, and made to labor without compensation for over 250 years. That legacy of poverty lives on today; because Black poverty is passed down, just white like wealth is, and the extreme racial wealth gap disparity between Black and white families underscores this fact.
We know that every individual in this nation, whether their ancestors were enslavers or not, whether they are 20th and 21st century immigrants or not, are reaping the benefits of a nation and world economy built on Black stolen labor. That labor must be recompensed as much as possible through legislative redress and redistribution of wealth. It is simply the most important reckoning that this nation has to undergo in order to move forward, survive and thrive in these modern times.
So our charge as “first responders” to racial injustice is to commit to education. Commit to learning the history of this nation that your were not taught about. Reflect and consider how racism lives in you, how it was passed down culturally, and how to un-learn these lies of racial superiority and inferiority.
I am convinced that each one of us can make positive impact within our circles of influence, at our places of employment, at our schools and within our families. Our charge is to organize and challenge lawmakers to demand that historical truth be taught in schools — not lies like “Black people benefitted from slavery.” Now is the time! It will require sacrifice, it will require giving up some comfort and some stuff. But the pay off can be a more healthy, vibrant and humane nation for all of us!
Please go forth and make a real difference in this nation! Peace and blessings!