Top: Photograph of headline in June 1904 (exact date unknown) edition of The Louisville, Kentucky Courier-Journal. Bottom left: “Mothers losing their children,” Anti-Slavery Almanac 1840. Bottom right: “Mode of flogging ‘slaves’” (Library of Congress/Philadelphia Tribune).
When that white judge ordered a Black mother to publicly and brutally whip her own child near the courthouse grounds, that didn’t happen in the 1600s or 1700s or 1800s. It happened in the 1900s, which is the 20th century. It happened during your grandparents’ or great-grandparents’ lifetime.
On June 13, it will be exactly 118 years ago that a white judge in 1904 issued that order. But before I explain the gory details, allow me to put this incident in context so you will understand that this kind of violent racism was not an aberration. Instead, it was and is American history.
The history of white racism in America is the history of sociopathy, psychopathy, perversity, sadism, savagery and malice.
Among other inhuman racist wickedness, that history includes systematized whippings, floggings and beatings created and ordered by white enslaving kidnappers, white enslavers, white law enforcement officers, white non-law enforcement people and white judges.
Yes, white judges.
For example, on June 13, 1904, as recently documented by the Equal Justice Initiative (EJI), a prominent pro bono criminal defense organization based in Alabama and headed by preeminent civil rights attorney Bryan Stevenson — the most essential Black lawyer in America today,
“A white judge ordered a Black mother to brutally beat her 15-year-old son in front of hundreds of white people in the Lexington, Kentucky, town square. Judge John J. Riley imposed this sentence upon the boy, Simon Searce, as punishment for getting into a physical altercation with a white boy.
Compelled by the judge’s order, Simon’s mother took her son straight from the courtroom … and to the town square filled with white residents. There, her son was stripped of his clothing and tied to a post, and she administered 20 lashes from … [an excruciating] buggy whip.
If Simon’s mother had refused to whip her son as ordered, she risked facing her own charges of contempt [of court] and also risked angering the judge who had power to impose an even harsher punishment upon her son.”
EJI also pointed out that “This brutal punishment of a Black child was rooted in the prior era of enslavement. During that time, Black children … were whipped with impunity by enslavers and traffickers, leaving physical and emotional scars.
“Narratives of the experience of enslavement written by Black people … often described how white enslavers would cruelly force enslaved people to … whip fellow enslaved people … [and those enslaved people] were threatened with violence or death if they refused.
“For generations after [1865’s] Emancipation, white urban and rural communities … participated in the public spectacle of violent punishments …,” EJI noted.
The concept of child-beating was never an African thing. It was always a European thing. In fact, as reported last year by author and congressional staffer K. Ward Cummings at madison.com, “Morgan State University professor Stacey Patton … has written extensively about how ‘masters’ who enslaved people used violence to discipline them …. Violence, against children in particular, was not a habit enslaved Africans brought with them to these shores. Accordingly to Patton, ‘West African societies held children in much higher regard than white societies in the Atlantic world. West Africans believed that children came from the afterlife, that they were gods or reincarnated ancestors.’”
Whether it’s white racist court-ordered child abuse in 1904 or white racist court-ordered abuse in 2022, it’s all the same. But in 2022 and recent years, it has a new name.
It’s now called the “school to prison pipeline” wherein allegedly recalcitrant Black students are singled out for much harsher treatment than allegedly recalcitrant white students in terms of detentions, suspensions, forced transfers, expulsions, arrests and physical force in the form of corporal punishment.
Yes. Physical force on schoolchildren. Disproportionately on Black schoolchildren. As noted at brookings.edu in the Brown Center Chalkboard by Dick Startz, an economics professor at the University of California at Santa Barbara: “Nationally, Black schoolchildren are twice as likely to be physically punished by school staff …. Notably, both the fraction of students who are Black and the overall incidence of corporal punishment are quite high in Alabama, Louisiana, and Mississippi.”
By the way, based on the most recent statistics available, which are from 2019, 15 states still allow corporal punishment in their public schools. Pennsylvania finally banned it just 17 years ago in 2005.
In fact, in addition to those 15 states that still allow corporal punishment in their public schools, every state except New Jersey and Iowa still allow it in their private schools (as reflected in the most recent numbers, which are from just four years ago).
Beating kids in schools is legal because the nearly all-white U.S. Supreme Court (despite the powerful dissent by Thurgood Marshall and three others) in the 1977 Ingraham v. Wright case said it was legal.
That case stemmed from an incident seven years earlier wherein a 14-year-old Black boy named James Ingraham — who was accused of merely leaving the auditorium stage late- was held down by three adult male Florida school officials and beaten 20 times with a paddle. Due to the severity of the strikes, young James was hospitalized with a hematoma. But five white judges/justices, constituting a majority on Supreme Court, ruled that the injurious 20-blow assault was OK.
Twenty? Where do I remember seeing that number? Oh, I remember now. It was in this very same article where I wrote about a white judge ordering Simon Searce to be brutally whipped 20 times.
The more racist things change, the more they stay the same.
On June 13, remember Simon Searce. Also, remember his beloved mom who was forced to make the kind of decision that no mom should ever be forced to make — but certainly would make in order to reduce the amount of pain inflicted upon her child.
But most important, remember to love and protect Black boys and girls everywhere in America.
This column first appeared in the Philadelphia Tribune, a publishing partner of the Pennsylvania Capital-Star.
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