On a February morning in 1947, in the darkness before dawn, 31 white men gathered in Pickens County, South Carolina.
A white cab driver had been robbed and stabbed two nights before. A black man named Willie Earle had been arrested for the crime. But the 31 white men did not wait for a trial. They showed up at the jail with shotguns. The jailer gave them Willie Earle. An hour later, somebody placed a call to a funeral home, notifying them where to find a dead black man on a dirt road west of Greenville.
Willie Earle was the last victim of a lynching in the state of South Carolina.
He was far from the only one. Records show that at least 185 black people were lynched in South Carolina from the end of the Civil War through the first half of the 20th century. But I mention Willie Earle this morning because of something else that happened in Pickens County, South Carolina, eight years after Willie Earle was killed.
It’s where Lindsey Graham was born.
He grew up in Pickens County, graduated from high school there, and went on, of course, to become a U.S. senator.
A U.S. senator who said last week that the impeachment process against President Trump is “a lynching, in every sense.”
In every sense.
I probably don’t have to explain this. But for those in the very back, maybe those trying to leave the room altogether, let me try.
The black people who were lynched were poor and powerless, instead of white and wealthy and the most powerful people in the land.
Before they were murdered, they were beaten and tortured. Often they were killed by hanging. Many times this happened in the town square. White crowds would come to watch the killing. People took photos that were turned into postcards that were turned into souvenirs.
The word lynching carries all that historical weight. It is not just about persecution. It is about humiliation and murder.
This all came up because President Trump himself said the impeachment process is a lynching. I honestly don’t know if our president knows enough to understand what he meant. I’m not sure exactly what he knows beyond his own need for power and attention.
But Lindsey Graham damn sure knows what lynching means.
You know, Lindsey Graham used to be somebody. Now he has become one of those birds that sit on the back of a rhino and pick bugs out of their skin.
After he backed Trump on the word “lynching,” he tied himself into knots trying to explain that he was talking about a political lynching, and how that was different.
But he is from Pickens County, South Carolina, and there is no way he didn’t know exactly what he was saying, and how much it would hurt people who are not like him.
That’s definitely the result. What bothers me most was that it might have also been the point.
Tommy Tomlinson’s On My Mind column normally runs every Monday on WFAE and WFAE.org. It represents his opinion, not the opinion of WFAE. You can respond to this column in the comments section below. You can also email Tommy at firstname.lastname@example.org.