Lennon Lacy: A new generation’s “Strange Fruit”

“The nineteenth century lynch mob cuts off ears, toes and fingers, strips off flesh and distributes portions of the body as souvenirs among the crowd.”   Ida B. Wells, “Lynch Law in America.” Jan. 1900, pp. 15-24

Lennon Lacy

Lennon Lacy

Lennon Lacy did not hang himself; he was lynched!  He did not commit suicide; he was murdered!  Capturing the correct language is so critical in this case, which is probably why mainstream media have refused to cover it.  The correct language reflects a history the U.S. would rather not share, while “lynching” is a word most Black folk would rather forget.  The harsh reality is that Lennon Lacy, a 17-year-old Black kid from North Carolina was lynched just two months ago.

What happened?

It was on Friday, Aug. 29, that 17-year-old high school student Lennon Lee Lacy was found hanging from a wooden swing set in Bladenboro, N.C. His lifeless body was left dangling in thin air on a makeshift rope.  His neck was visibly marked with dark abrasions from asphyxiation.  A belt buckle imprint was found just below his right ear.  There were lacerations on his face, arms and chest; bruises on his chin, cheeks and nose; a series of unexplained scratches on his scrotum; and an enlarged knot on the right side of his forehead.

The black Air Jordan sneakers Lacy was originally wearing were removed and replaced with a pair of sneakers no member of his family was able to recognize.  Though Lennon’s feet were a size 12, the white sneakers placed on his feet at his time of death were a size ten-and-a-half. Lennon’s mortician, F.W. Newton, described the body as if he “had been killed in a barroom fight.”  (theguardian.com, Oct. 9)

As if Lacy’s lynching was not enough, just a few days after he was laid to rest, someone (or some group) dug a small hole on top of his grave.  They also destroyed the floral arrangement that friends and family had placed at his burial marker, tossing the arrangement alongside the road 40 feet away.  While local authorities are suggesting suicide, the Black community is calling the Lacy case for what it is: a 2014 lynching.

Every reason to live

On the evening of Lennon Lacy’s disappearance, his father, Larry Walton, was the last family member to see him alive.  According to Walton, his son Lennon had every reason to live.  His high school football team was scheduled to play their first game of the season later that evening.  Lennon’s dream was to play in the National Football League.  He was a linebacker whose size, skill and work ethic basically guaranteed a scholarship to college.  His performance in the classroom was equally stellar.

Local residents have spoken highly of Lennon’s character, manners and overall demeanor.  Lennon was also active in his church youth group, had no criminal record and no history of mental illness.  His only “harm to society” was dating a white woman who lived nearby.  Local residents were well aware of Lacy and 31-year-old Michelle Brimhall’s “intimate interactions,” which garnered a heaping of local gossip and disdain.  Some things have not changed down South: the general attitude toward Black men dating white women just happens to be one of them.

Jim Crow and the Southern Confederacy

Bladenboro, N.C., is a small town of 1,746 residents located just outside of Wilmington, N.C.  Nicknamed “Crackertown” by local Black residents, Bladenboro is 80 percent white and well known for its ingrained racism within the social order.

For those unfamiliar, Wilmington is the home of the 1898 Race Massacre, a two-day armed attack on Wilmington’s Black middle class by white terror mobs.  What that moment literally created was Jim Crow segregation — an oppressive and bloody end to Reconstruction and post-slavery progress.

Wilmington was also the site of the 1971 frame-up of The Wilmington 10 (who were finally pardoned by N.C. Gov. Beverly Perdue in 2013).  Such history and close proximity means everything.

This history contributes to the political and social climate of the community.  White supremacy was, at one time, the law in North Carolina.  Many would argue it still is.  Keep in mind that between 1882 and 1968 there were 86 Black folks lynched in this state — and those are just the lynchings we know of.   Ironically, neighbors of the Lacy family had just recently been made to remove a sign in their front yard that read “N——-s Keep Out.”

Police botch investigation

Stating that local authorities have failed to conduct a thorough investigation in this case is an understatement.  It has been reported that Lacy’s fingernails were not properly swabbed for DNA testing.  His hands, body hair and mouth were not examined either.  Due to the presumption of suicide, Lennon’s neighbors, friends and Michelle Brimhall, have not been questioned.

It is obvious the Bladenboro Police Department has not taken this matter serious.  A 200 pound teenager was found hanging from a swing set in the middle of a trailer park, and no one knows anything?  No one should be surprised if the local police department was partly involved.  It was not long ago that police officers, sheriff departments and the Ku Klux Klan worked hand-in-hand to enforce white supremacy, particularly throughout the South.

Those learning of this case for the first time: tweet, Instagram and Facebook it.  Dig deep and research the history.  Tell your friends around the world how a 17-year-old Black boy was lynched in North Carolina on Aug. 29, 2014.  Tell the world how the U.S. is still racist and lackadaisical in the pursuit of justice for all.  Tell the world how democracy does not really exist here.  In the case of Lennon Lacy, tell the truth.  Lennon Lee Lacy did not hang himself; he was lynched.  He did not commit suicide; he was murdered.

“Our country’s national crime is lynching.  It represents the cool, calculating deliberation of intelligent people who openly avow that there is an “unwritten law” that justifies them in putting human beings to death without complaint under oath, without trial by jury, without opportunity to make defense, and without right of appeal.”  — Ida B. Wells

Lamont Lilly is a contributing editor with the Triangle Free Press and organizer with Workers World Party in Durham, N.C.  Follow him on Twitter @LamontLilly.