On Sunday, Father's Day, I Shall Ask My Children to Commit to Memory the Terrible Fate of the Texan Black Man, James Byrd

By Howe, Darcus | New Statesman (1996), June 19, 1998 | Go to article overview

On Sunday, Father's Day, I Shall Ask My Children to Commit to Memory the Terrible Fate of the Texan Black Man, James Byrd


Howe, Darcus, New Statesman (1996)


"Still chained to the truck, Byrd rolled into a ditch. His head and right arm hit concrete and were ripped off. The remains bounced on for 1.2 miles. At 75 places along the way, pieces of Byrd were splattered on the track, including his dentures."

This is not fiction, not a quote from a novel. Byrd is not a pseudonym for Texan cattle or Kentish lamb, nor is he a force-fed animal being treated horrendously by a meat-producing farmer. If he were, the heavens would fall, brought down by the legions who are hot on cruelty to animals.

James Byrd was a human being from Jasper, east Texas, USA, who happened to have a black skin. He joined celebrations two weekends ago: a bridal shower for a niece and a friend's anniversary party - close and tight social mingling and mixing. He played the piano and trumpet; I am sure he sang as well. A crooner, perhaps, a dude with a song in his heart. Quite an ordinary phenomenon in the outback of the USA.

He said goodbye to his family and promised to appear in full regalia at a Father's Day celebration this weekend. Millions of blacks brought from Africa to plantations in America and the Caribbean are at ease with these simple cultural pursuits.

But he did not get home that night. He met something which, after 400 years, continues to be a threat to life and limb. Three boys, drifting through semi-urban, semi-rural America, where their superior white skins count for little economically, saw James Byrd as the only rescue from their inferior status in America.

They stopped, offered him a lift, assaulted him with a spanner - three against one - and chained him to the jitney they were driving. The results were as reported in the first paragraph.

In all my years reading novels, drama, poetry, journalism, I have never come across such barbarism. The moral reaction is easy but I find it difficult to translate it into politics, into some idea of what should be done.

Let me try. President Clinton expressed his horror. …

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