When I was seven years old, I saw a movie that stripped me of my worldly innocence long before I was prepared for it.
That movie, starring Jon Voight and Ving Rhames, was Rosewood.
I have not seen the film since, but the visuals remain as clear as though I watched it yesterday.
There are two scenes from Rosewood that will haunt my life forever: when Aunt Sarah, whilst pleading for her son’s life, was shot on her front porch, and the lynching of Rhames’ character.
In the immediate moments that followed that lynching scene, a young boy—me—sat broken-heartedly frozen at the image of the limp and lifeless silhouette swinging from the tree. I saw, in that moment, a man who’d looked like my grandfather, my father, and my uncles—but that wasn’t the worst of it.
The worst of it was trying to make sense of the group of onlookers standing by, spectating; unmoved and unbothered.
This was based on a true story: the 1923 Rosewood Massacre—less than 100 years ago—and, at seven, it was my first “This is America” realization.
Black bodies aren’t swinging much from trees anymore. Yet somehow, I’m still seeing the images.
Black and white images of lifeless bodies formerly known as Henry, Mary, or Elijah swaying from oak trees have transitioned into modernized visuals. Gone are the trees, yes, but the lifeless bodies remain. Only now they lie in the streets, and on the pavement—formerly known as Eric, Mike, or George.
And the worst part?
Still trying to make sense of the spectators—Americans—standing by; unmoved and unbothered. All these years later.
I never understood how the great man who created my mother survived a war in Europe, only to come home and societally fight another from St. Louis to Detroit. He lived in the black and white. And I never thought I’d see what he saw.
I was born in progress, because of the battles fought.
I was born in the color, or so I thought.
I never thought I’d, too, be living in the black and white.