History Revisited

History Revisited

Local African-Americans in their 80s and 90s say Rittenhouse verdict shows that Jim Crow is still alive and well.

The memory of being told that her father was dead is still vivid in the mind of 89-year-old Kit Lewis. He had been lynched and was found hanging from a tree. The men who murdered him were not charged with a crime, says Lewis, who lives in Alexandria, but was born in Mississippi. Learning that Kyle Rittenhouse had been acquitted of murder after claiming his actions were in self-defense, conjured up memories of her father’s murder. 

“I thought those days were behind us,” she said. “That verdict goes to show that our lives are not valued and are not equal to those of white.  If a black man had done that and claimed self-defense, he would probably have been sentenced to life behind bars.”  

African-American octogenarians and nonagenarians, who came of age in the 1920s and 30s, often feared for their lives and freedom because of a justice system that placed a much higher value on the lives of whites than blacks. They now fear for the lives of their children and grandchildren, and say that Kyle Rittenhouse’s acquittal proves that the justice system that they experienced as young men and women is still in place.

"It's not fair, but it’s real.  Rittenhouse is just more proof that Jim Crow is still alive and well."  

— Hattie Jackson, 92 

After 87-year-old Ethyl Norris’s daughter passed away from breast cancer, leaving behind two young children, Norris began raising them. Marvin and Carmyn are now 21 and 19 respectively. Both of her grandchildren, who are now in college, are planning to drive home for the Thanksgiving holiday. Norris has mixed emotions about grandson traveling this year. While she loves to see him, she always worries when he’s driving on the highway. 

“Marvin is a smart, educated and talented young man, but because he’s 6’2” and black, some people, when some people look at him, especially the police, they will see him as a threat,” said Norris, who lives in Vienna “He’s doing everything right. He graduated from high school, made good grades, is still making good grades and wants to go medical school when he graduates. But the cards are still stacked against him.”  

When Marvin is driving, Norris has warned him to wear a shirt or sweatshirt with his college logo and place his school books on both the front and back seat of his car.  His driver's license, car registration and insurance card are kept on the sun visor.  

“I want him to be able to get those documents with his hands visible at all times,” said Norris. “If he’s stopped by the police, I pray that doing those things will keep him from becoming another victim of police brutality or arrested for something that he didn’t do. Whether folks will admit it or not, everyone knows that Rittenhouse's verdict shows that black men are guilty until proven innocent, but white men are given the benefit of the doubt.”  

Always ask for a receipt and a bag when making a purchase is a lesson 92-year-old Hattie Jackson of Silver Spring tells grandchildren and great grandchildren. “I don’t care about reducing waste, saving and protecting the environment. I am more concerned about saving the lives and protecting my babies, protecting from the police and judges.”  

“If a white man walked out of a store without a bag or receipt, a policeman would believe him when he said trying to avoid waste and save the planet,” said Jackson.  “But if my black grandsons walk out of the same store without a receipt to prove they paid for it, they might end up handcuffed in the back of a police car. It’s not fair, but it’s real.  Rittenhouse is just more proof that Jim Crow is still alive and well.”