Professor Details Disturbing Part of Black History
Polk #3 in Florida for Lynchings
Last updated 3/16/2019 at 2:23pm
Dr. Tameka Bradley Hobbs set the tone with famed jazz singer Billie Holiday's haunting 1939 classic "Strange Fruit," a musical tale of lynchings, burning flesh and dripping blood. Her Black History lecture Thursday, Feb. 21 at the Lake Wales Museum continued with fascinating but disturbing stories, statistics and photos of far too many black men and women hung from trees in the South.
While many Black History lectures celebrate the accomplishments of African Americans, Hobbs focuses on the dark past she wants no one to forget. More than 75 people listened with rapt attention to Hobbs' description of the migration of African Americans, the exploitation of Black labor and the "spectacle lynchings" that drew large crowds.
Hobbs held up a copy of that day's USA Today newspaper, which featured the headline: "Black face parties, KKK and mock lynchings," still timely issues in the news. Chicago police this week accused Empire TV actor Jussie Smollett of staging a fake hate crime; the rope around his neck helped draw immediate and widespread reactions of outrage.
In 2016, Hobbs literally wrote the book on racial violence in Florida, the award winning "Democracy Abroad, Lynching at Home." The book focuses on a rash of anti-Black violence in Florida during the 1940s.
Between 1882 and 1951, Hobbs' research identified 4,732 lynchings in the U.S. - 83 percent of them in the South; 73 percent of the victims were black. She said Florida was the deadliest place in the nation, with Polk County third in Florida and twenty-first in the nation in the degree of lynchings.
"Before slaves were freed their bodies were too valuable as labor," Hobbs said. "Violence and murder were used to keep them in their place."
Hobbs is an associate professor of history and coordinator of African American studies at Valdosta State University. Her Lake Wales presentation was sponsored by the Florida Humanities Council as part of the Museum's ongoing speaker series. The next program will be 6-8 p.m. Thursday, March 21, with Peggy McDonald speaking about Florida's Female Pioneers as part of Women's History Month.
Another part of the Museum's focus on Black History Month is the current "Freedom Riders" exhibit, which will run through March 20. It focuses small interracial groups that traveled together in 1961, sitting together on buses and trains and demanding unrestricted access to terminal restaurants and waiting rooms. They faced bitter racism, mob violence and imprisonment with courage and sacrifice.