When I was one, a young black man Willie Earle in my home town was taken from jail and tortured to death on a highway not far from my home. Growing up in Greenville, I never heard about the lynching nor heard his name mentioned. A few years ago, I finally undertook the project that I had promised the Lord I would do: I spent a year researching and writing Who Lynched Willie Earle?
Before Ahmaud Arbery, there were countless acts of violence against African Americans by white Americans. Before George Floyd there were many Willie Earles. Truman established the first Civil Rights Commission in great part as a response to the lynching of Willie Earle; the present President has stoked the fires. He is sure to do as little to address America’s original sin as he has done in the face of the pandemic.
But it’s important for people like me to remember that racial violence will not end when Donald Trump is finally removed from office. Christians must act like Christians in the present moment.
I wrote Who Lynched Willie Earle? as my little act of remembrance of the name of a black man whose life was cut short by racial violence.
Yet I wanted to do more than remember history and to tell the truth about it, though that’s a start. I also hoped to encourage naming names and addressing the sin of racism from the pulpit. Preachers like me must speak up and speak out, letting our congregations know that we can’t be Christian without naming the sin of racism and the harm inflicted upon its victims.
If you are looking for help with this vocation that Christ has laid upon us, I hope you will take a look at Who Lynched Willie Earle? Some associated links:
- The epigraph for my book comes from James Cone’s book The Cross and the Lynching Tree
- I also highly recommend F. Willis Johnson’s Holding Up Your Corner: Talking About Race in Your Community.
- An interview with Yale Divinity School about my book
- A podcast with Beeson Divinity School’s Dean Timothy George on my book
- I relied on Will Gravely’s historical research for the book, and it has been published by USC Press as They Stole Him Out of Jail.
- I worked with St. Luke’s Episcopal Church on their Becoming Beloved Community series giving a lecture, doing a dialogue with Dr. Catherine Meeks of the Absalom Jones Center, and preaching a sermon.
Christ has made our history his. He has changed and is changing our histories. We are not fated to live out the lies we have been told. Preachers have been commissioned to speak up in the name of Christ. The continuing, unabated history of violence against people of color by people like me are a call for more faithful preaching, more determined naming and action.