Years ago, I was married to someone whose vehicle was rear-ended on the highway by an African American. I’ll call him the “other driver. (I’ve never been comfortable using the term, “black,” because I was raised not to see color.)
After the accident, there was some unbelievable behavior from the other driver. He took a tool out of his vehicle. It might have been the tire wrench, I don’t recall because it was a long time ago. He began to hit my ex-husband’s vehicle he rear-ended, the car body, and the windshield. He attempted to get what he was using as a weapon into the driver’s side of the vehicle to strike my ex-husband.
Several witnesses saw the aftermath of the incident. My ex-husband was put in a position where he had to make sure he wasn’t harmed.
Ultimately, we were left with a vehicle that was totaled and there was no possibility of any economic resolve. After the incident, witnesses handed over their business cards stating they saw what happened and to contact them if necessary.
Charges were ultimately filed against the other driver because his actions fell under the word, “assault.” That, and the fact he had no insurance.
It was a total loss and the effects of the situation could have had a different ending. The other driver was arrested. We were out of a second vehicle.
For me, It wasn’t about the fact the other driver’s skin had a different color. It was more about the disbelief at his irresponsible and thoughtless behavior. And there was the feeling of gratitude my ex-husband wasn’t seriously injured.
Many people would stereotype the other driver while others would want to address the behavior that followed. This could have easily been turned into a story about how all African Americans are crazy. But I didn’t see that and probably because one of my parents wasn’t Caucasian. That, and the fact I wasn’t brought up to judge people by skin differences.
I have often wondered if the witnesses stopped and handed out their contact information because the other driver had a different skin color. If the other driver had been in another place and time, he could have ended up like Cleo Wright.
A history lesson
When I read or hear stories like the fire lynching of Cleo Wright that occurred in 1942, I wonder if the presence of a stereotype or a taught belief determined his final outcome. My gut wants to think it did.
Wright was never given what we call a fair trial. He allegedly attacked a woman who did survive, and the police officer who tried to arrest him. He was shot and taken to jail without medical treatment.
On early Jan. 25, 1942, Wright was arrested on charges of allegedly assaulting a White woman. Wright was shot several times by a city night marshal during his arrest, but the hospital refused to admit him for treatment due to his race. Police initially brought the ailing Wright to his home to die but later returned him to the city jail, where a mob of White men formed at the jail and soon overcame city and state police officers. (Source.)
A mob of over 70 people managed to pull him out of jail while unconscious. They then dragged him into the street and burned him alive in the African American community. Was this solely the result of his alleged actions, or the color of his skin? It has been a stain on Sikeston, Missouri for decades, and the uncomfortableness of having any discussion about it continues.
FBI agents identified 20 men who played a role in Cleo Wright’s gasoline lynching. A grand jury was enlisted. There were no indictments and no trials. Even though Wright was allegedly guilty, what happened to him wasn’t right. For those who treated him in the manner in which they did, how could their actions be justified?
But since they were never even indicted, might it be for the best that they were forgotten, their ultimate punishment left to the all-knowing disposition of a higher court? I only know one thing for sure: I feel no temptation to further disturb their unquiet sleep. (Source.)
In 1999, musician, author, and playwright, Terry Teachout, wrote Close to Home published in The New York Times. He grew up in Sikeston, Missouri. He also brought up Dominic J. Capeci Jr.’s book entitled The Lynching of Cleo Wright.
Terry passed away at the age of 65 in January 2022. He studied music and journalism at William Jewell College. He found and achieved success in New York. In 1991, his memoir was published — City Limits: Memories of a Small-Town Boy. Click here to read more about him in The Washington Post.
This year, the Soil Collection Project went to Sikeston. Wright’s great-grandson attended. The ceremony was near the Lincoln Building where Wright died. There were four jars of dirt collected. One of those jars will stay in Sikeston. One went to Cleo Wright’s family. One went to Kansas City, Missouri, and one went to a museum in Montgomery, Missouri.
Wright worked at a cotton oil mill. He was 26 when he died. He left a wife named Ardella. His death certificate stated he died from gunshot wounds, violence by unknown persons, and third-degree burns. The Library of Congress has a disturbing photograph of Wright's body while a crowd of men and boys stare.
When I was growing up, other children made fun of me because of my last name and my freckles. We all know children can be cruel sometimes with what they say out of their lack of awareness. I didn’t see I was different with my name or features, and probably because one of my parents wasn’t 100% Caucasian which I learned later in life was a completely different topic of conversation.
I wasn’t brought up to judge people by the differences in their skin. From the cradle, I was taught about civility, respect, and why I shouldn't use the word, hate.
Thanks very much for reading.