You have reached your limit of free articles this month.

Enjoy unlimited access to myAJC.com

Starting at just 99¢ for 8 weeks.

GREAT REASONS TO SUBSCRIBE TODAY!

  • IN-DEPTH REPORTING
  • INTERACTIVE STORYTELLING
  • NEW TOPICS & COVERAGE
  • ePAPER
X

You have read of premium articles.

Get unlimited access to all of our breaking news, in-depth coverage and bonus content- exclusively for subscribers. Starting at just 99¢ for 8 weeks

X

Welcome to myAJC.com

This subscriber-only site gives you exclusive access to breaking news, in-depth coverage, exclusive interactives and bonus content.

You can read free articles of your choice a month that are only available on myAJC.com.

Rumor, accusations, fly in park hanging death


The discovery of the body of a black man hanging from a tree in Piedmont Park has touched off debate, questions and comments near and far.

Police say the man killed himself. Others say that’s not so — the man, they are convinced, was lynched.

Lynched. The very word is a reminder of terror dealt with rope and gun, by flame and blade. It’s the stuff of grainy old photos and lurid newspaper accounts. It’s the tales handed down from one generation to the next — the mob at the door, the hate in the air.

Police say evidence taken from the site last week supports their conclusion that the unidentified man took his own life. To be on the safe side, they’ve called in the FBI to take a closer look at the case.

But that’s not enough. In the tense aftermath of recent racially charged shootings in St. Paul, Baton Rouge and Dallas, the unidentified man’s death has sparked questions and accusations that have gone viral on social media forums.

Consider this tweet from Wendavious Ross, who’s not buying the police line:

“It seems like the police could have been hiding something,” he wrote Monday. “I personally think the guy was (hanged). I’m not sure how it’s ruled as a suicide so fast, to me that sounds fishy.”

He then invoked an organization synonymous with violence against blacks. “I’m hoping it wasn’t the KKK at all … But that’s what it seems like.”

It seems like a “perfect storm” of comment and conjecture, said Jennifer Keitt, a social media expert from Atlanta.

A timeline confirms her assessment. A park security guard found the body Thursday around 4 a.m. At 5 a.m., social-media traffic picked up the bare facts: a black man hanging from a tree, police investigating. By 10 a.m., user comments had become pointed, outraged. By noon, people were speculating that he’d been lynched — the KKK, perhaps, behind it.

“I think it was just the perfect storm as it relates specifically and only to that story,” Keitt said. The ingredients of that storm include race; the manner of the man’s death; and the presence of police, she said.

Adding swirl to the storm: the Internet, where rumors are always welcome. “Misinformation is rampant on the Internet,” she said. “The more viral, the more sensational; … that is the nature of the beast.”

There are reasons for people believing a cover-up took place at Piedmont Park, said W. Fitzhugh Brundage, a history professor at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill. The department’s chair, Brundage is the author of “Lynching in the New South: Georgia and Virginia, 1880-1930.”

People of color, he added, would be especially suspicious of any African-American’s hanging death ruled a suicide.

“There’s a long history of lynchings … in African-Americans’ memory,” said Fitzhugh. “There are centuries of history.”

No less than Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed has been drawn into the debate over what did, or did not, happen. Early Saturday, he visited demonstrators in downtown Atlanta protesting the shootings in St. Paul and Baton Rouge. Their talk quickly turned to what one protester termed “a black man hanging from a tree in the South.”

“The simple fact of the matter is, there are no facts that suggest foul play (at) Piedmont Park,” Reed said. “We immediately turned it over to the FBI for transparency.”

Those assurances weren’t enough for at least one demonstrator. “What happened at Piedmont Park?” he demanded.

Reed has been assailed for not releasing more details but he argued officials haven’t been able to notify the man’s family yet.

“Just imagine if you heard about your loved one being lost on TV rather than through law enforcement?” the mayor asked.

The skepticism is understandable, said Amy Kate Bailey, a sociology professor at the University of Illinois at Chicago. She’s co-author of “Lynched: The Victims of Southern Mob Violence.” The volume focuses on a half-century of lynchings, from 1880-1930, in 10 southern states. Georgia is one of them.

Her research determined that about 2,500 people were lynched during the period — more than 500 from Georgia.

White people, she said, might be surprised by that total. Black people? Not so much.

“This is something that we as a country have not talked about,” Bailey said. “I think that it gets completely swept under the rug.”

It’s hardly surprising, she added, that some people would view the police department’s conclusions with suspicion.

“I think their reaction is understandable: ‘We haven’t been told the truth so far. Why would we get the full story now?’"Bailey said.

“Until we tell ourselves the complete story, we’re not going to move past the present.”


Reader Comments ...


Next Up in Local

John Lewis might skip Donald Trump’s first Capitol Hill speech

WASHINGTON — Six weeks after engaging in a personal and very public tiff with President Donald Trump, U.S. Rep. John Lewis, D-Atlanta, declined to say whether he’ll attend Trump’s address before a joint session of Congress Tuesday. “I’m just not speaking about it,” the civil rights icon said just outside the...
Photo appears to show veteran lying on ground while waiting at North Carolina VA
Photo appears to show veteran lying on ground while waiting at North Carolina VA

A couple posted photos on Facebook and said veterans waited for hours in pain inside the Durham VA Medical Center. Stephen McMenamin, a former U.S. Marine, was there for treatment, and said his wife took the pictures because she "found it upsetting." McMenamin said a veteran who was lying on the ground was using his bag of medication for...
Fire damages several collections of rare superhero comic books
Fire damages several collections of rare superhero comic books

At least three 1960s comic book collections burned in a recent Forsyth County fire, the store owner says. The back room where vintage Xmen, Avengers and Amazing Spiderman comics were stored is off limits until an investigation into a recent fire at Kapow! Comics concludes, store owner Andy Diehl told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.  <div>...
Florida men threatened to be cut by man who told them they 'live in Trump country'
Florida men threatened to be cut by man who told them they 'live in Trump country'

Police responded to the report of aggravated battery Thursday when two Key West, Florida, men said a man riding on a moped threatened to cut them, the Miami Herald reported. Kevin Seymour, 38, and Kevin Paul Taylor, 49, were on a walk in Miami early Thursday when the man called them a slur and  "a slew of other anti-gay remarks...
Man arrested after confrontation at Roswell gas station
Man arrested after confrontation at Roswell gas station

A confrontation at a Roswell gas station led to a man pulling a gun on three people, police said. Javier Zajda faces charges of aggravated assault and carrying a concealed weapon after police say he threatened a woman and two men at the Chevron on the 1100 block of Holcomb Bridge Road on Feb. 15.  Police say Zajda pulled into the parking lot...
More Stories