For an entire semester, roughly four months, I got the opportunity to become an investigator. I felt like Indiana Jones, without the whip and fun music playing in the background. On the first day of class, my mind completely blanked on what this class was about. I walked into Dr. Giggie’s class with a smile on my sweaty face and anticipation to learn about African-American studies. Unbeknownst to me, it was a class that focused on lynching. Dr. Giggie said, “Welcome to African American Studies 413, where you will be learning about and researching lynching victims.” My eyes bulged. My heart sank. My hands felt clammy. I forgot what this class entailed, and I knew I was in for a wild ride.
Being a young, black man from small town Mississippi, this class was much different that the run-of-the-mill history classes that I sat through in high school. I actually had to think and do work in this class. I wasn’t memorizing generic facts or writing papers on war generals. I was digging around and actually getting a hands-on approach on the people that history books tend to leave out. We may discuss slavery for a couple days during Black History Month, but Dr. Giggie’s class was in an entirely different league. We were historians. We had to make sure that the lynching victims were remembered. We put a name to a plot. We made sure these people weren’t forgotten, and we made sure they didn’t die twice.
When Dr. Giggie continuously stated, “These people essentially died twice,” something in me wanted to help. That always stuck in the back of my mind because it made me think, “What if that was me? What if one of these victims was a family member of mine? I’d want people to know who they were.” That really motivated me to want to go the extra mile to find hidden information, use my free time to rifle through endless databases, and use ancestry.com to my advantage.
Studying racial violence and lynching and racial terror is important to our history as Americans. This isn’t just African-American history. This is simply American history because numerous people were affected, and this race war seems to be never-ending. I honestly never thought too much about racial violence until taking this class. It’s important that more people take classes like this and actually take the time to learn about this horrible moment in history because if we don’t learn from our past, we are doomed to struggle with racial tensions with little relief. There is a huge connection between then and now, white supremacy and black lives, standing by and actually doing something. This class really put some things in perspective. It opened my eyes to a whole new chapter of history that I want to know more about. It made me care, and that’s something more people should do. We should care.
The research was time consuming. There were times where I spent hours exhausting search engines just to end up back at the drawing board; but, the times when I did find something, it was like a lightbulb went off. It’s more than just a class; we’re putting a name to lost life that was supposed to remain a mystery. It’s as if we’re trying to fill in the gaps of history’s unfinished painting.