Today, my brother and my two sons will appear before a parole board in Columbia, South Carolina, not because we’re in any kind of trouble with the law, but to try to right a wrong done to my great-uncles almost 100 years ago.
So, last night, I tried to put myself in the shoes of my uncles, brothers Thomas and Meeks Griffin. If then were now, how would it be for them?
Like my brother and me, they were two successful black men. They owned 130 acres of land, and, in fact, the reason they were railroaded into this crime in the first place was because they were rich “n-words” and could afford to pay for a defense, according to some documents. Sadly, that defense was thrown together in one day, and, of course, it failed. And they were electrocuted.
So, here we are, in racist South Carolina, where my family and I will see that Confederate Flag hanging when we walk into the State House.
I’ve been tossing and turning at night, wondering what life was like for the Griffin brothers – what must have been going through their minds and what was going on in the world at that time.
I found out that in 1913, the year they were arrested, Woodrow Wilson was elected the 28th president of the United States. By the way, he supported imposing segregation in many federally-funded agencies which led to the firing of black workers from numerous positions.
Also in 1913, Delta Sigma Theta Inc. was founded on the campus of Howard University. Rosa Parks was born, and Harriet Tubman died.
In May of 1913, boxer Jack Johnson was convicted in Chicago for violating the 1910 Mann Act and was sentenced to prison for a year and fined $1,000. The Mann Act prohibited the interstate transport of white females for immoral purposes. The woman he was arrested for transporting later became his wife. So, investigators charged him with a similar offense involving a woman he dated years earlier.
Today, a family member of Jack Johnson’s is fighting to pardon that conviction, which was handed down by an all-white jury.
I imagine that in 1913, there were more instances of indictments rooted in racism than we can count. But the Griffin brothers’ story was more complicated than that. Theirs was more of a story of plain jealousy, hatred and scandal. The man my uncles were accused of killing was a white confederate soldier who was sleeping with a black prostitute, and they were framed by her pimp.
Now, almost 100 years later, we’re hoping to right that wrong.
I’m filled with all kinds of emotions. Pride that my family and I are able to come together and join in such an effort. Sadness that it happened and could still happen today. Fear that things won’t go the way we hope it will. And anger that until we achieve what we want, we have to walk into a building where a Confederate flag flies – and just suck it up.
Of all the research that Dr. Henry Louis “Skip” Gates has done on this case, the thing he hasn’t been able to tell me is the kind of men my uncles were. Yes, they were landowners; yes, they had support of many people – including whites in the community – and yes, they were law-abiding citizens who, like so many before and after, were minding their own business, and suddenly their lives would never be the same again.
But I want to know what kind of black men they were. Did they give back? Were they interested in the plight of other black folks? There seems to be no record of their civic work, and so I continue to wonder and ask myself this question. If then was now, would they be more like Armstrong Williams than the kind of black man I am?
I will continue to search for that answer, but for now, I’m preparing myself for one of the biggest days in Joyner family history. The next time you hear from me, you’ll know whether our trip to South Carolina was truly a journey to justice. Stay tuned.
Also On Black America Web:
This Week’s Celebrity Instagrams (11/26-12/2)
30 photos Launch gallery
1. Little Legend and Puddy 😍😍😍😍
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2. "You on point Phife?" "all the time,Tip". 💥 #bannedfromnormal
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3. Vegan! The Impossible burger at Crossroads
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4. Lawrence #BeforeandAfterEpisodes 1-4: 184lbs 13% body fatEpisode 8: 196lbs 8% body fat S/O @coachdaveboxing with the works outs and @kildareriordan with the nutrition
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5. Jus haaaanngin out
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6. Meanwhile back at home in Atlanta GA someone mad they not on the 🛳. 😳
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7. No limits... Photo cred: Chris Bridges @ludacris
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8. new new
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9. Apparently my 260lbs is too much for the actual vines in the Hawaiian jungles to hold me without breaking and me falling hundreds of feet. So for safety purposes, I'm forced to swing thru #Jumanjj on wires strong enough to hold 12 adult buffaloes and 1 adult Rock. #OnSet #Jumanji #IronicallyIEatBuffaloDailyForLunch #MoreManThanNatureKnowsWhatToDoWith
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10. hey ma! 🎎#wcw 💙
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11. Surprise visit to our factories!!! #GoodAmerican #USA
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13. Peachy Keen 🔥✨⚡️
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14. If this don't look thankful I don't know what does. Happy Thanksgiving to you and yours. #UltraBlessed #24kMagic #SweetPotatoFly
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15. Late nights @nbcmarlon with the writers... we in here!!!
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16. There goes my baaaaaaaaabbbbyyyyy #QueenKingMagic!!! We're up to something! Ira BIG!!! Stay out our buisness -
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17. You want to win every game you play but when you come home to these faces... who cares. #ILoveYouGirls best part of my day, everyday!
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18. Steady,steady..... full size jenga.. "I got this one "???? Or do I ?
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19. Cornrows kind of day 😉@dontaysavoy2 you convinced me and I love. ❤️️
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20. #BrotherlyLove #tbt
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22. #basel #TeamLOVE @kingcombs
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23. Just introduced a special screening of @directher 's groundbreaking (must see) documentary @13thfilm with my brother @themichaelealy | @unitedblackout #blackoutblackfriday
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24. Me & Vanessa Williams giving #DuckLips #Pose on the set of #DaytimeDivas @vh1 - Coming Soon to a tv near you. Lol. - My make up done by @makeupsurgeon
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25. This picture just makes me wanna praise the Lord, you hear me!!!!!! Yes Lord brotha #TEDDYCAMPBELL What a #man !!! You are everything right on this picture husband ......... #gorgeous #stylish #classy #strong #masculine #king #sexy #debonair #gentlemenstyle And that #bible in your hand just seals the deal for me (probably cause i know that, that is what helped you become just as amazing as you look😘). While my heart and mind experiences the goodness of God at #church on Sundays, my eyes experiences the goodness of Teddy😍. Amen somebody🙌🏽. "Bless the Lord oh my soul and all that is within me bless his holy name" #myman #myhusband #goodman #blackman #dapperman #godlyman #goodfather #mybestfriend
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26. Yesterday was my mama's 53rd birthday!!!!! Got to celebrate with her all day. If this is what I have to look forward to I can't wait. Looking like a soft bucket a cocoa butter. Yaaaaaaaaaas! 😍😍😍 love you mommy!
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27. "Shout out to @PureAtlanta for getting the family right"....I'm loving this jogger. 😍😍
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28. This pic warms my heart ❤️ #myLogiebeans and aunt aunt umba @itowandabraxton 😘
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29. You will always be my baby😜. #HappyBirthdayReginae #mybaby18
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30. GC "Gods Child" Red on Red SweatSuit available now at www.MonicaApparel.com ... Take Your Crown wherever you go!! I'm pictured in a Medium... Go to the site now for other options ... cc: @trukernell
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