On March 13, 1919, Cicero Cage, a young black man living in Ralph, Alabama, was “cut to pieces,” or stabbed, by the white men of his community. Cage was accused of violating the purity of a white woman; the white men in his community chose to lynch him for this crime. Understanding Cicero’s murder helped me understand the arc of United States history, leading to the U.S. in 2017, in a way no history textbook ever could. In studying Cage’s death, I realized that those who lynched Cage were not ideological outliers in their community. Rather, the men that lynched Cage acted on behalf of a community that believed Cage was guilty. Racial terror like Cage’s lynching was and is the manifestation of widely held ideals. Communal racial terror lynchings were replaced with Jim Crow laws, which were replaced with the laws that allow the unjust mass incarceration of black men today.
Due to this restructuring of my idea of U.S. history, my professional goals as a history major have radically changed. The lack of proper memorials for victims of lynching like Cicero highlight the larger problem of erasure of racial terror in history studies. Before studying Cicero’s murder, I was completely unaware of the ubiquitousness of racial terror in the United States. Now, after studying Cicero’s murder and learning of similar murders through my classmates’ studies, I plan to dedicate my academic and professional careers to studying the effects of racial terror in the modern day U.S. Through my studies, I hope to honor Cicero’s memory and insure that those who lost their lives due to racial terror will be remembered in American history.