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Lynching is Now a Federal Crime

In a rare and welcome bit of bipartisan news yesterday, the Senate unanimously approved legislation making lynching a federal crime. The sponsors of the bill were two Democratic senators, Cory Booker of New Jersey and Kamala Harris of California, and Republican Tim Scott of South Carolina.

According to the bill’s sponsors, there have been nearly 200 attempts to bring similar legislation forward over the past one hundred years.

Senator Kamala Harris posted this video of the moment of passage. “Madame President, I ask unanimous consent that the committee on the judiciary be discharged from further consideration of S.3178 and that the Senate proceed to its immediate consideration.” Her words were formal but her expression was jubilant.

The moment was made even more poignant when the video cuts to the woman presiding over the committee: Mississippi Senator Cindy Hyde-Smith, who was recently under fire for making a casual joke about attending a public hanging.

Lynching is an extraordinarily ugly part of our American legacy, and though this legislation is way too late, I welcome it.

Lynching was extra-legal and socially sanctioned. It had a form and ritual to it. White men, women, and families participated in the kidnapping and torture of black citizens, often with the full knowledge of law enforcement and other authorities. It was often accompanied by vandalism, razing, and the widespread destruction of black-owned property. It is a stain on our civic record that is specific and unique.

Federal protection now makes mob killings a hate crime, potentially punishable by life in prison.

I welcome this legislative milestone not because it offers any remedy for past misdeeds or guarantees deterrence for future ones, but because it is part of the reckoning of a great, national forgetting that has allowed the darkness of our racial caste system to operate as if it were light.

No marginalized group has the luxury of forgetting.

This victory belongs to so many people whose names we may never know, but plenty who we do, chiefly among them, attorney and advocate Bryan Stevenson and his many supporters, whose tireless work on The National Memorial for Peace And Justice have re-centered the story of Jim Crow violence on the victims of racial terror.

But the bill also belongs to Ida B. Wells, a tireless journalist and investigative reporter who was threatened with lynching herself when she wrote an editorial decrying mob violence in 1892. “[N]obody in this section of the country believes the old threadbare lie that Negro men rape white women.”

It caused a riot that forced her to relocate across the country.

Wells, later Wells-Barnett, became a tireless advocate for change and used data and investigative techniques to make the case that lynching was as much about the economic encroachment of black workers as anything else.

In 1909, she delivered a blistering, evidence-filled speech to the National Negro Conference calling for federal policies to protect black citizens.

“Why is mob murder permitted by a Christian nation? What is the cause of this awful slaughter?” she began. “The only certain remedy is an appeal to law. Lawbreakers must be made to know that human life is sacred and that every citizen of this country is first a citizen of the United States and secondly a citizen of the state in which he belongs.”

Now they know.

So it was impossible not to feel her presence when Sen. Harris stepped to the podium to present the bill for consideration, and even more so when Sen. Hyde-Smith looked around the chamber and delivered, with absolutely no fanfare, a decision one hundred years in the making. “The ayes do have it. The bill is amended as passed.”


On Point

Not hidden anymore: Mathematician who helped develop GPS gets her dueDr. Gladys West, a mathematician who worked for the U.S. military starting in the 1950s, was inducted into the Air Force Space and Missile Pioneers Hall of Fame earlier this month. It is one of the Air Force’s highest honors. West was a key participant in a series of groundbreaking projects, but it was her work programming an IBM 7030 “Stretch” computer to create an increasingly accurate model of the Earth, which ultimately became the foundation for GPS technology.Patrick Air Force Base

Portrait of the hedge fund manager as a young, black man
It’s been a tough year for hedge funds in general, but as this Forbes profile suggests, it’s been just another year of steady growth for 36-year-old Milwaukee native William Heard, the founder of Heard Capital. His flagship Heard Opportunity long/short fund has outperformed all benchmarks, with 8%-plus net annualized returns since 2011. He was serious about finance since he was a student, which helped earn him spots in internship programs, then an investment management program at Marquette, and ultimately the mentorship of serious players. Even if you don’t want to know his investment strategy, check it anyway. It’s a good way to get a sense of how market opportunities work these days, and I’m pretty sure if you finish the piece, you can get credits toward your CFA.

Social purpose is the future of brands
Taking a stand is not a fad: Nearly two-thirds of consumers expect the brands they support to weigh in on issues that matter to them. This is according to Accenture Strategy’s annual Global Consumer Pulse Research survey, which formed the basis of a new report called “To Affinity and Beyond.” The findings come from 30,000 global consumers, who say that purpose matters, they’ll switch brands if disappointed and that they don’t think companies are transparent enough. One Accenture Strategy senior managing director says it’s the promise fulfilled of a digital world. ‘[I]t’s empowered the consumer,” he says. “They can make a brand an overnight success or they can kill it,” he tells Fast Company.
Fast Company

For love of hair and black fatherhood
Matthew A. Cherry, the former NFL wide receiver-turned-filmmaker-writer and all around creative spirit, was surprised recently when a recent kickstarter for an animated film concept featuring a black father trying to do his daughter’s hair generated more than three times his requested $75,000. That got the attention of Penguin Random House, who is planning on turning the film into a children’s picture book, out next May. Bestselling author Vashti Harrison did the art, and together they created Zuri, an utterly confident girl who only needs help with one thing, her hair. It was a project filled with important aesthetic choices. “We really went out of our way to make sure the dad looks like any young father that you see today and get away from that stereotype of what a safe Black man looks like,” Cherry tells Essence. 


The Woke Leader

Prepare yourself for one of the tenderest and best long reads of the year
Donna Ladd, an extraordinary writer about race and culture, turned within to share this personal tale of the Mississippi she grew up in and that produced her mother, an extraordinary woman of intelligence, strength, and straight-forward empathy, who didn’t learn to read until she was 63. At first, Ladd was the only one included in her mother’s secret. She spent her growing up life helping her mother pay bills, read instructions, search the phonebook, and fend off an unkind world. “My mother’s world was minuscule, options for women like her non-existent,” Ladd writes. But her mother’s decision to take adult education classes later in life proved a revelation that neither quite expected. Yes, bring tissues.
The Guardian

The long tradition of racist Russian propoganda
I know this doesn’t quite count as uplifting, but I’m sliding it in under ‘affirming’: If we don’t address our history of racism in this country, we will always be vulnerable to insidious forms of propaganda and cultural blackmail. This piece from The Atlantic shows that while the technology used by Russian troll ops in the 2016 election is relatively new, the tactics of racial division aren’t. In fact, in 1932, Dmitri Moor, the Soviet Union’s most recognizable propaganda artist created a poster that supported the Scottsboro Boys, nine black teenagers who were falsely accused of raping two white women in Alabama. Their case became a lightning rod issue after they were convicted repeatedly by all-white juries. They targeted black oppression to sow division to aid in the spread of Communism, but the Soviets also attempted to lure African American sharecroppers to join their racism-free “worker’s utopia.” Plenty of them went, too.
The Atlantic

A tree grows in America
If you could picture the waves of immigrants to the U.S. as part of a bigger mechanism, say, a living organism, would it change the way you think about immigration? That was the goal of a team from Northeastern University who have taken 185 years of immigration data and transformed it into a visualization that resembles the cross-section of a growing tree.“I wanted to portray the United States like an organism that’s alive and that took a long time to grow,” says Pedro Cruz, an assistant professor at Northeastern. “The visualization also contains the underlying message that the country was built on diversity.” It’s truly fascinating. The visualization (here, on Vimeo) begins in 1830, so it doesn’t really touch on the issue of the forced migration of Africans. If you’re Native American, I suppose you’ll have decidedly mixed feelings about the history it depicts. But still, it grew.
City Lab


No other nation, civilized or savage, burns its criminals: only under the Stars and Stripes is the human holocaust possible. Twenty-eight human beings burned at the stake, one of them a woman and two of them children, is the awful indictment against American civilization—the gruesome tribute which the nation pays to the color line.
Ida B. Wells-Barnett