The noose was immediately removed, and the university’s president, Richard Myers, called the incident “intolerable.” But he also addressed reality, noting, “There may be some who do not understand the emotional impact of a knotted cord in the shape of a hangman’s noose.” Myers suggested people ask black students and faculty for their thoughts.
While it should never fall only to African-Americans on campus to do the educating, Myers was wise to recognize that some might be tempted to excuse the incident as a lame prank of a politically incorrect jokester.
People of all races have been lynched on American soil. Mark Twain called out the “mania” of such vigilante justice in his 1901 essay, “The United States of Lyncherdom.” But hangings were especially common in Southern states after the Civil War, used to assert white supremacy through intimidation. Often, these were macabre public executions. White families would attend picnic-style, posing for pictures with a corpse left hanging in a tree. The bodies were left to rot.
Black businessmen who achieved too much success were targeted, as were those who had consensual relationships with white women. And people accused of a crime whose chance for a fair trial was usurped by the murderous actions of angry citizens.
One of the last known public lynchings in the U.S. took place in 1942 in Sikeston, Mo. Cleo Wright, an African-American, was accused of assaulting a white woman and attacking a police officer. A mob tied Wright to a car and dragged him through town. About 300 people then watched his body burn.
Southern trees bear strange fruit. Blood on the leaves and blood at the root. Black bodies swinging in the southern breeze. Strange fruit hanging from the poplar trees.
This is the grisly message that was left on public display at K-State.