By Julia Wright
“This is the hour of the furnaces; we only see the light” — Che Guevara
“Blossoming purple, a forgotten artichoke in a dark cupboard”
— haiku by Richard Wright, 1960
These are strange days during the floundering of what was said to be our unsinkable “democracy,” when each dark event seems to be the butterfly effect of a deja vu going back to slavery or to our Civil Rights Movement. Science fiction would appear to be old hat. We, writers, will have to invent something else.
This July 3 marks the 40th year of the incarceration of Mumia Abu-Jamal. Two generations of freedom fighters have been trying to free him from prison in Pennsylvania. Forty cities around the world are mobilizing to commemorate the resiliency of the man, the father, the grandfather and writer, who has written 13 books behind bars and, while imprisoned, has offered his voice to the voiceless through commentaries read worldwide.
Two years ago, the Philly DA stumbled upon three dozen boxes collecting dust in a locked storage room in his office. A few of those boxes hidden from public view — and certainly from the defense’s eyes — contained exculpatory evidence damning for the courts, evidence that is at last coming to light 36 years later and hopefully not too late for a 68-year-old elder who is cirrhotic and suffers from chronic heart disease.
Last year, after the tragedy of the monetization by the Universities of Pennsylvania and Princeton of the bones of two MOVE children, after the ripple of shock that the exploitation of our children’s bodies beyond death sent through our country, the mother of the two children involved, Consuewella Africa, died of grief after having to recognize further remains of her children in cardboard boxes left aside and “forgotten” in a cupboard in the city morgue.
Last week, in the damp basement of a Greenwood, Mississippi, courthouse, an unserved 1955 warrant for Carolyn Bryant’s arrest was found. She was the white woman who spread the rumor in August 1955 that 14-year-old Emmett Till, a Black child who went to buy candy at her white grocery store in Money, Mississippi, had tried to sexually assault her.
Emmett Till was subsequently lynched on the strength of her assertion. Although Carolyn Bryant recanted when questioned by the FBI way back in 1955 and again last year to a biographer, the Department of Justice recently coldly closed the case.
At the back of the moldy 67-year-old warrant located a few days ago, a sheriff’s 1955 handwritten note reads that the arrest did not take place because she could not be located. The affidavit attached to the long-buried, unserved warrant says that Roy Bryant, Carolyn Bryant’s spouse; his half brother, J.W. Milam; and Carolyn Bryant herself did “willfully, unlawfully and feloniously and without lawful authority forcibly seize and confine and kidnap Emmit Lewis Tell (sic).”
According to the New York Times, the sheriff’s excuse for not serving the warrant back then was “because she had two young children to care for.” (New York Times, June 30)
The two brothers, who were declared innocent by an all-white jury and confessed for money to the lynching in a LOOK magazine article — have since died. Carolyn Bryant Donham is alive and free.
Warehousing our bodies or throwing away the key to the truth about our bodies would seem to be a leitmotif in white supremacy’s attempt to treat us as the waste, the garbage of the society they claim belongs to them. We are as expendable as the truth about us.
So in the colonizer’s mind, we belong at best in cupboards; in other words, prisons.
But to paraphrase the late Vietnamese monk and poet Thich Nhat Hanh: “If we know how to transform the garbage, the compost, into flowers, we don’t have to worry.”
The truth about Mumia’s boxes, about the MOVE children’s ordeal, about the Uvalde children’s covered-up 911 calls and about Ms. Bryant’s “lost” arrest warrant will come out. Light has a way of enduring.
Julia Wright is the daughter of the acclaimed Black novelist, Richard Wright. This article was slightly edited.