By Monica Land
The Injustice Files: At The End Of A Rope airs tonight
SILVER SPRING, Md. – Lynchings have long been a part of Mississippi’s dark past. Since the days of slavery, many innocent, black victims have been tortured and murdered at the hands of southern white supremacists.
In the 1930s, a Jewish high school teacher from the Bronx expressed his anger about the lynching of two black men by writing a poem, Strange Fruit, and setting it to music. In 1939, Billie Holiday made it famous by singing about the horror of seeing “black bodies swinging in the southern breeze…the strange fruit hanging from the poplar trees.”
For years, New York-based filmmaker Keith Beauchamp has been investigating the possibility that lynching still occurs in the United States and his findings will air in a two-hour special tonight entitled, “The Injustice Files: At The End Of A Rope.”
The program will air on the Investigation Discovery Channel (ID) from 7 – 9 p.m. (CST).
Beauchamp investigates four mysterious hanging deaths that have taken place within the last 30 years, including those of two Mississippians. The show will profile the deaths of Keith Warren (1986), Raynard Johnson (2000), Nick Naylor (2003) and Izell Parrott (2005).
Johnson was from Kokomo, Miss., and Naylor was from Porterville, Miss.
Beauchamp, who is internationally known for his first documentary, “The Untold Story of Emmett Louis Till,” and his work with the FBI in re-opening Till’s murder case, said he first became aware of Raynard Johnson’s case more than 12 years ago.
“I remember getting a phone call from Emmett Till’s mother, the late Mamie Till-Mobley who told me about a young man being hung because he may have been dating a white girl,” Beauchamp said. “By the sound of her voice, I could hear her living the nightmare of the loss of her son all over again. Mrs. Mobley was soon asked by Rev. Jesse Jackson and his Rainbow Push organization to join them in Kokomo to participate in a protest march about Raynard’s death. It was at this point, where many publications began to compare the Rayard Johnson case to one of the greatest injustices ever committed, the Emmett Till murder.”
Beauchamp said Raynard Johnson was considered the Emmett Till of the 21st century.
“There was an international rally cry for justice in the death of Raynard Johnson…which ended with an official ruling of suicide. Twelve years later, his family continues to believe that Raynard did not kill himself.”
Johnson, who at the time of his death was 17-years-old, was found hanging from a pecan tree in front of his parents’ home in June of 2000. His death was ruled a suicide. At the urging of Rainbow PUSH and the NAACP, officials in Washington, D.C. were asked to investigate the controversial case.
Three years later, Beauchamp said he continued to hear about the mysterious hanging deaths of black men across the nation.
“I began making a list of the victims, vowing to tell their stories one day, in hopes of helping the families get closure,” he said. “In 2006, I was fortunate to receive a $35,000 Media Arts Fellowship grant to pursue these cases and quickly ran out of funds when the death toll continued to rise. Time and time again, I raised the question, are black men, who have the lowest suicide rate suddenly killing themselves? Or could modern day lynchings be happening in the United States?”
Beauchamp was determined to find the answer with his series, “The Injustice Files.”
In his program, Beauchamp examines the four hangings and evidence that led investigators to rule them suicides with the assistance of a criminologist, a psychologist and a forensic pathologist. He then tempers law enforcement’s take with the impassioned claims of loved ones and experts who believe that these are cases of modern-day lynchings.
Beauchamp, said for years, these families have been on a merry-go-round searching for answers to confirm their deep-rooted beliefs that foul play is at hand. But for investigators, these cases have been closed as suicides.
Beauchamp said his experiences in dealing with the families of the victims and law enforcement agencies in Mississippi have been a sobering experience for him.
“I discovered that Kemper County has a dark history of lynchings and that there are still people in that community who believe in the ‘Old South,’ he said. “The Naylors [for example] not only need closure for the loss of their loved one, but they also need protection in their own home. I can never imagine living in fear everyday of my life and looking over my shoulder when the sun sets.”
“The next installment of “The Injustice Files” ensures a huge awakening for many who will have to confront the unsettling thought that lynchings still may occur in this country,” he continued, “proving how far we have to go to obtain true justice for all.”