Jul. 9, 2017

Driving While Black Murder Isn't Road Rage It's Racial Rage

Since I won't be waking up until noon tomorrow. I am posting my blog at midnight. To those driving the roads please be safe.

Sunday's reflective history lesson harkens back to the year of 1964, on an early Saturday morning, July 11 only nine days after the passage of the historic Civil Rights Act by Congress and signed by then-President Lyndon Baines Johnson. We can look at history as Manning Marable states as a living process that circles back and forth as experiences past and link to those present day experiences and we can understand the relevant connections. These connections can incite within us anger and frustration because it seems that certain aspects of our society haven't moved in any meaningful positive way. These people seem stuck on stupid or stuck on ignorance that reeks a mental illness which damages the very fiber of justice. These negative actions rip and tear at the seams that should pull the forces of reconciliation together but these negative simply rip at old wounds and create new wounds where a human repair was possible. If that makes any sense? 


I was doing some reading last night about a 48-year-old Army Reserve Officer and his two colleagues on a Georgia road headed out of Athens back to their homes in Washington DC. Lemuel A. Penn, a Lt. Colonel in the US Army, who was the Assistant Superintendent of Schools, his job in Washington DC was the Director of Vocational Education. The other two occupants in the 1959 Chevy were Charles Brown and John Howard both army reservists as well as teachers in the DC Public School System. They had just finished their two-week duty at Fort Benning, Georgia and were headed back home to see their loved ones and get back to work.  


This merged into three major problems for Lt. Colonel Penn, Brown, and Howard:


  • (3) black men in 1964 in the State of Georgia being the biggest problem
  • (3) black men driving while black in Georgia with District of Columbia license plates 
  • (3) black men in a car within view of a band of night-marauding KKK members



These men were simply being the best American citizens that they could be. None of the three men were involved in the Civil Rights movement. As a matter of fact, each of them stayed on base during their 2 weeks of training. They feel that by doing they were staying out of harm’s way by not being involved any acts of racial disturbances. Well, racism and hatred will ring the bell even for those who intend to stay out of sight of its consequences. The simple fact is that Lemuel Penn was caught driving while black in 1964 just as Bianca Roberson was caught driving while black in 2017. Neither, Bianca nor Lemuel incited any actions that deemed them targets other than being of a darker complexion and being confronted by an individual or individuals who felt entitled to snuff out their lives with lead.  Lemuel Penn was killed by 2 shotgun blasts that killed him instantly on that Georgia Road in the early morning hours of July 11, 1964, while Bianca Roberson was killed instantly on a Pennsylvania Road on June 28, 2017, by a single gunshot to her head. Both were killed driving while black. They called it road rage in 2017 but the killer was white with a deep hatred for people of color. They called it race murder in 1964 because the shooters were members of the Klan. 


The thing is I see no difference between the two actions other than the 53-years of separation between the incidents. Both murders were incited by racial animist, bigotry, prejudice that still festers in this nation even though 5 decades have passed between the murders of Mr. Penn and Ms. Roberson. You will learn if you go read that the accused murderers of Lt. Colonel Penn, Howard Sims, and Cecil Myers were acquitted by a jury of white men in Madison County, Georgia. You will also learn that the judge who presided over the trial although a friend of President John Kennedy didn’t believe in the civil rights for African-American citizens, and he like many white men felt that the civil rights agitators were motivated by communism and atheism. He felt the so-called “negro problem” was created by northerners hellbent on destroying the southern way of life. You will also learn that Sims and Myers, although acquitted by the state court in Georgia, were I believe the first individuals convicted of denying a negro citizen his civil rights under the newly enacted Civil Rights Bill of 1964.  Both men were sentenced to 10 years in a federal prison. They couldn’t be tried for murder because of the laws related to double jeopardy but they were convicted of conspiracy to keep out-of-state negroes from coming into the Athens, Georgia area.  You will also learn that Sims released in 1976 after serving a 6-year sentence was killed by one of his associates with a double-barreled shotgun while Myers was released in 1972 after serving 6 years in federal confinement.


You won’t find the case of Lemuel Penn written about in the history books of our country. We won’t know that his lovely wife dead of heartbreak one year after his murder when she succumbed to an episode of lupus. You will learn that his three children were raised by their aunt in Syracuse, New York and each has turned into outstanding citizens. Even though each could’ve easily slipped through the cracks of human despair because of that murderous act that took both of their parents. One directly and the other because of the heartache that accompanied the pain she had at losing her life partner. You see for me Lemuel Penn’s murder was one of the initial cases of driving while black which ended up in a black person murdered. This action of DWB still pervades and maligns our society.  We should never forget Mr. Penn’s ultimate sacrifice. Just as we should never be allowed to have Bianca Roberson’s murder assigned to road rage. Both murders, although separated by 53 years, are vindictive acts of racial hatred, bigotry, and civil rights violations. I can only hope that once the murderer of Bianca Roberson is brought to justice in a state court. He is also charged in a federal court for attempting to keep black drivers from coming into the State of Pennsylvania.  That is my lesson for a Sunday morning I hope you can join me later today for Project Uplift Literacy.