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QUIT PLAYIN: Please Don’t Forget James Byrd!

“The past is never dead. It’s not even past!”

– William Faulkner

James Byrd. Jasper Texas. June 7, 1998.

Wikipedia lends an ample synopsis of the crime by three avowed racists and suspected members of the Ku Klux Klan.

“On June 7, 1998, Byrd, age 49, accepted a ride from Shawn Berry (age 23), Lawrence Brewer (age 31), and John King (age 23). Berry, who was driving, was acquainted with Byrd from around town. Instead of taking Byrd home, the three men took Byrd to a remote county road out of town, beat him severely, spray-painted his face, urinated, and defecated on him, and chained him by his ankles to their pickup truck before dragging him for about three miles on Huff Creek Road.

Brewer later claimed that Byrd’s throat had been slashed by Berry before he was dragged. However, forensic evidence suggests that Byrd had been attempting to keep his head up while being dragged, and an autopsy suggested that Byrd was alive during much of the dragging.


Byrd died about halfway along the route of his dragging when his right arm and head were severed as his body hit a culvert. While almost all of Byrd’s ribs were fractured, his brain and skull were found intact, further suggesting that he maintained consciousness while he was being dragged.

Berry, Brewer, and King dumped the mutilated remains of Byrd’s body in front of an African American cemetery on Huff Creek Road, then drove off to a barbecue. A motorist found Byrd’s decapitated remains the following morning.”

What is it about hanging or mutilating Black folks that make these racists so hungry. Crowds used to throw picnic, after lynchings and James Byrd’s murderers left him to eat barbeque. Anyway…

I was sitting in the choir stand at church last week when William Faulkner’s quote was read. The past is never the past! I immediately went to my modern-day encyclopedia, which most of you know as Google. I aimed to see what else Faulkner was known for.

Although he won the Nobel Peace Prize for his works like “Absalom, Absalom” and “The Sound and the Fury.” The very next line of the global encyclopedia forced me to take the famous Mississippian out of my syllabi of sound reasoning.


“He (Faulkner) did not believe in the equality of black people, and during the school desegregation battles, he sided with those who would prevent blacks from gaining access to “White Only” schools. He knew black people as servers and laborers but not as equals.”

Faulkner’s quote made me think he may have been down with the brothers at first. But after further research, the truth revealed that he was just a slightly more intelligent Southern Cracker than most.

W.E.B. Dubois offered to debate him on the court steps where Emmitt Till’s murderers had been acquitted. James Baldwin excoriated him roundly for his racist rants. Who am I to argue with them?

So, I had to go to the one sophist and social thinker that never fails us. Google…Get me Richard Pryor, 1976, Bicentennial Nigger!

Richard Pryor’s epilogue in his classic 1976 standup held a one sentence sentiment that summarizes being Woke and Black in America. After opining hilariously on subjects from slavery to Civil rights, Pryor delivered a crushing blow. Pryor made light of everything from the slave master’s whip to the constancy of police brutality in the black community through America’s 200th birthday.


Without warning, the laughter and the lighting faded to black. Richard Pryor muttered these words with as much comedic effusiveness and enlightening honesty as he could muster. “Y’all mighta forgot it, but we ain’t never gonna forget it.”

Sadly, we have forgotten.

The waters of disrespect, disregard, and disdain haven’t receded for Africans in America who were bound on slave ships and brought here before the Mayflower. Even when President Barack Hussein Obama rode into office on a tide of hope, he soon learned he had to tread the waves of racial hatred lightly.

Ross Byrd, the only son of James Byrd Jr., campaigned to ban capital punishment and thereby spare the lives of those who murdered his father. But on Wednesday, April 24, 2019, John William King, 44, was executed. Lawrence Brewer was executed I 2011, and Shawn Berry is serving a life sentence.

Ironically, Faulkner was right in one sense. For Black people in these yet-to-be United States, the past is never the past. But in the spirit and wisdom of Richard Pryor, I ain’t never gonna forget it. Unfortunately, this nation won’t let me.

Vincent L. Hall is an author, activist, and an award-winning columnist.

Written By

Vincent L. Hall is an author, activist, and award-winning columnist.


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