Date: Fri, 19 Jun 98 13:39:36 CDT
From: Workers World <>
Organization: WW Publishers
Subject: Outrage over Texas Lynching
Article: 37202
To: undisclosed-recipients:;
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Justice for James Byrd! Outrage over Texas lynching

By Gloria Rubac, Workers World, 25 June 1998

Far more people showed up for the June 13 funeral of James Byrd Jr. than the New Bethel Baptist Church in Jasper, Texas, could hold.

Over 300 people crammed into the church. Over a thousand more filled its parking lot and the streets around it. They stood under a scorching sun in 101-degree heat.

In just a week, the gruesome lynching of Byrd has generated mass outrage against the racism in the United States.

Among those attending the funeral were family and friends of Byrd plus members of Congress including Congressional Black Caucus leader Rep. Maxine Waters and Texas Reps. Sheila Jackson-Lee, Eddie Bernice Johnson and Jim Turner, Texas Land Commissioner Gary Mauro, Houston Mayor Lee Brown, Houston City Councilperson Jew Don Boney and NAACP President Kweisi Mfume.

Moses Stewart came to the funeral from New York with civil-rights activist the Rev. Al Sharpton. One week earlier, Stewart and Sharpton had led a march through Bensonhurst, Brooklyn, to protest Keith Mondello’s release from prison. In 1989, Mondello led a racist mob that killed Stewart’s son, Yusuf Hawkins.

Outside the church, many reflected on the horrible death of James Byrd. Friends said he was a great piano player and singer, and the best trumpeter in Texas.

On June 7, Byrd was kidnapped by three white men with ties to racist groups such as the Aryan Nation. They drove him a few miles outside this rural East Texas lumber-mill town.

Then they reportedly beat him unconscious while screaming racist slurs.

The men are charged with chaining Byrd by his feet to their pickup truck and dragging him down a narrow asphalt road for three miles. Parts of his body were found all along the route.

His head was found more than a mile from his torso.

Many people, Black and white, in Jasper, around the state and across the country are shocked and outraged. Anti-racist activists have characterized this as the worst racist hate crime in the United States since the 1955 murder of Emmett Till. That 14-year-old’s mutilated body was found in the Tallahatchie River in rural Mississippi.


There were so many law-enforcement officers at Byrd’s funeral that some said they felt they were in the middle of a war.

Besides the local police of Jasper, there were sheriffs, Texas state troopers, Texas Rangers, the Justice Department and the FBI.

Tensions ran high as the cops, in their bulletproof jackets, threatened to arrest people distributing anti- racist leaflets and ordered them to leave the area.

Police repression escalated after the funeral when 15 to 20 African American men in black uniforms, carrying shotguns and semi-automatic weapons, marched to the sheriff’s office to hold a news conference.

The group included New Black Panther Party members from Dallas, and some members of the Crips and Bloods street organizations. Minister Khallid Muhammad of New York led the delegation.

Muhammad called on members of the Black community to arm themselves to defend their communities. He said the United States loves to see armed Black men going to Vietnam or to Iraq, but not arming to protect themselves.

Some 75 cops surrounded the group wherever they marched. The police blocked off every street near their route so that no one could see them.

Later the cops trapped about a dozen carloads of people on the deserted road where Byrd was killed and wouldn’t let them leave the area. Police claimed, Men with guns are coming down the road.

Many who were trapped at this dead end said it was the men with badges, guns and blue uniforms they feared.

Officials in Jasper claim the Klan is not active here. But a closer look at Jasper and East Texas reveals a long history of racism, Ku Klux Klan terror and lynchings.

And it is not all history from the distant past.

Just a few years ago, lawyer Deborah Perky of Houston attended a Klan rally in Newton, just 15 miles from Jasper, as a legal observer. She said it was a major rally held in broad daylight in the town square. Klan speakers vowed to organize in all the neighboring towns.

Perky said, It was the scariest thing I have ever seen.

John Lewis, who taught Byrd how to play the trumpet when they attended Jasper’s all-Black middle school in the early 1960s, says friends working in automotive shops have found white robes stashed in the trunks of cars.

Donald Johnson, a 34-year-old Black maintenance supervisor at the public school, says he often finds KKK scrawled on the school walls.

After the 1964 Civil Rights Act was passed, the apartheid Colored only signs remained in sections of the town’s hospital. When Lions Club members thought they were going to be ordered to integrate their local swimming pool, they filled it with cement.

Many of those attending Byrd’s funeral grew up in the area. One, Ester King, has been an activist in Houston’s African American community since the 1960s. He recalled: When I was a child near here, my grandmother said when she was growing up that the favorite way of lynching around here was to drag Black folks from behind a horse or a wagon or a buggy.

The whites would drag them through the Black community, with their shotguns held up high. Undoubtedly these three men had heard this also. This area is famous for this terrorist killing.

Omowale Lithuli has been an activist for civil and human rights in Houston’s African American community for over three decades. He said: As a little boy I saw my mother and grandmother at the TV set talking about how terrible the death of Emmett Till was. I think this murder rivals the killing of Till.

What is somewhat commendable today is that we have a sizable part of the Anglo community that has shown up to show their outrage.

Lithuli concluded: The people who perpetrated this crime didn’t just spring out of nowhere. They have been conditioned by a system that promotes race hate.

So while we must focus on these individuals for justice from the criminal-justice system, the larger task is that we have to change this system.


At Byrd’s funeral, members of the Texas Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty distributed a statement placing blame for Byrd’s lynching on the racist influence of the Texas prison system, as well as on East Texas’s long history of racism and violence.

The overwhelming majority of the people at the funeral wanted fliers. Also, the Caged Panther was very well received. This publication is put out by PURE—Panthers United for Revolution ary Education, a group of African American prisoner activists guided by the revolutionary principles of Malcolm X.

The men who have been arrested for Byrd’s murder have all been in the Texas prison system, which is known for its racism and violence. It has been reported that two of the three were members of the Aryan Brotherhood while in prison and have tattoos of racist symbols.

Racism—from slurs to psychological torture to physical brutality—is a daily feature in the prisons. Guards chain, beat and stomp Black and Latino prisoners every day.

The president of the NAACP in Montgomery County, about 75 miles west of Jasper, said that as a former prisoner: I know one thing the prisons do is campaign to set one race against the other. Especially if there are individuals that may oppose the way the system does things. That’s basically how the guards control things, by having all inmates fighting each other.

Minister Robert Muhammad of the Nation of Islam Mosque 45 in Houston attended Byrd’s funeral to pay his respects to the family.

Muhammad concluded: As much as I am disgusted by how James Byrd was dragged into parts, I am more disgusted by the stock market going up to 9,000 points and dragging the workers along and dismembering us and our families.

This brother’s life is not just one life. It is symbolic of all the pain going on in America. It’s something that we’ve got to do something about.


Millions of people are outraged and agitated over recent racist crimes in the United States. It is not only the level of brutality, hatred and cowardice expressed in these crimes that is so outrageous. It is also the official response to them.

In Jasper, Texas, after James Byrd Jr. was abducted by three white racists, dragged behind a pickup truck and dismembered, the local sheriff is reported to have said that the men who did it had been stupid. Just days after Byrd’s closed-coffin funeral drew over a thousand mourners, the sheriff’s department granted a permit to the Ku Klux Klan to march and rally in Jasper on June 27.

In New York, Antoine Reid is close to death after being shot by Michael W. Meyer, an off-duty cop, while trying to clean the windshield on Meyer’s car with a squeegee. Meyer is a cop who had been removed from patrol after many civilian complaints over his brutal conduct. Yet in Mayor Rudolph Giuliani’s comments on the case to reporters, instead of pledging to clean up his police force the mayor compared squeegeeing to drug dealing.

From a small Southern town to the home of Wall Street and 8 million people, these officials have displayed the most callous contempt for Black people victimized by racism. Nor are they alone.

For all his talk about a dialogue on race, why didn’t President Bill Clinton go to Jasper for Byrd’s funeral? That would have meant 100 times as much as his carefully scripted town meetings.

And why hasn’t Texas Gov. George Bush taken a stand? His father, a former president and CIA head, could send thousands of troops to the Persian/Arab Gulf supposedly to defend the rights of Kuwaitis, but Bush can’t defend the lives of Black people in his own state?

It is evident once again that the problem is not just ignorance among a few backward whites that will eventually be phased out. Rather, racism has deep roots in the historic oppression of the Black nation within the United States And racism is constantly being regenerated and reinforced by the capitalist state itself.

Slavery created racism, and not the other way around. It was the tremendous profit to be made off kidnapping African people and working them to death on plantations in the Americas that demanded the creation of an ideology to justify this oppression.

Today’s racism is every bit as much a rationale for super- exploitation. Racism means low wages, intimidation on the job, withholding public services, and price gouging by landlords and merchants. It is the most extreme expression of capitalist exploitation.

This is a critical moment for all workers in this country. Labor is trying to get back on its feet again after having been gravely weakened by years of corporate downsizing and union busting, business unionism and neglecting to organize the most oppressed. The key to recovery is multinational unity—as seen last summer in the inspiring UPS strike, and again today on the GM picket lines.

The bosses know it, and are promoting politicians of the Giuliani type to drive a racist wedge into the working class wherever they can.

They must be answered. A great mobilization is needed—a many-million-person march against racism to show that the leading edge of the working class here is aroused and united. Wouldn’t that change the political landscape, not just inside the United States but all over the world? Wouldn’t it give hope of new social possibilities to the hundreds of millions whose view of the future is now defined by a terrifying capitalist economic crisis?

For starters, there must be a response to these latest racist atrocities. It is not enough to wish that the KKK and racism would go away—a movement has to be forged to organize and fight back. It’s especially important for white workers and progressives to reach out to their sisters and brothers of color in denouncing racism in all its ugly manifestations. The Klan must not ride again. Killer cops—the Klan in blue—must be stopped. The reaction of shock and outrage millions feel over these events can be converted into the political will to struggle and turn the tide.