The Burning Nightmare of 1921

Rayna Bandy, Guest Writer

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Gunshots rang throughout the air. Screaming mothers and fathers trying to gather their children from being engulfed by the hell fire rising from the mob. I looked around,but I couldn’t find him. He had just been by my side. God, please help me find him. I can’t live without him.

“Israel! Israel!”

Tears streamed down my burning face, the smoke stung my eyes, and it felt as if the fire had entered my throat and consumed all around me. I thought my perfect little Greenwood couldn’t have problems like this; maybe I had been wrong. In the midst of the fire, yelling, and screaming, I saw a small flicker of light. It was the only hope I had as my whole world was falling apart in front of my burning eyes.

 

***

After I had finished cleaning up the breakfast table there was a loud knock at the door.

“Starr, can you see who’s at the door? It’s probably Dick.” I could hear the slight smile in her voice: she loves Dick. In fact, she and his grandmother planned a date for us, I overheard them talking on the phone. It was no secret that he and I had a crush on each other, but due to my father’s rules I was not allowed to date. It pained him each time we hung out, and Israel which made no sense to me.

Israel has been my best friend for as long as I can remember. We grew up living in the same neighborhood and school. Our favorite thing to do as kids was play with Lincoln logs, one of the newest toys at that time, and our favorite book to read was The Wonderful Wizard of Oz published in 1900. He was the sibling I never had—my protector—well the person who held me back from fighting in school. Later we would meet Dick, and we would soon be known as the three musketeers.

I open the door and see Dick standing there, arm slightly tilted above the door with the sweetest smile on his face.

“ Hey, Starr ”

“ Hi, Dick. ”

“ Great, since I’ve seen your beautiful smile this 31st day in May.”  I blushed as he took my hand and played with my fingers. He brushed my crimson cheeks as he pulled a bright yellow daffodil, my favorite flower.

“ Awe, Dick, you shouldn’t have” Smiling my cheeky smile, I could see my father enter the front room, and nod at Dick.

“ Good morning, Mr Jackson.  I wanted to come by and ask Starr if she would like to join some of us out to eat this evening at the Rec Center for some games. We’re celebrating the end of the school year. Would that be okay with you?”

“ Well, sure why not . Be here at six o’clock to pick her up. I don’t want her walking the streets alone with what has been going on lately.”

“ Yes, Sir. I’ll be here at six sharp. See you then, Starr.”  Waving, I shut the door not knowing that tonight would change my life forever.

 

***

 

Israel came over later that afternoon. For our first day of summer, we went to the backyard and read our favorite books, while listening to our favorite jazz music that was very popular at the time. Bright and full of promise, and had me wondering what the summer would bring. Soon I fell into a daydream. I wonder if me and Dick will actually date like his mother and his grandmother would love us to. I’m sure he does not like me in that way, but Israel claims that he has liked me ever since that day I first beat him in the spelling bee. He’s one of the sweetest guys I know…. Suddenly awakened from my daydream, Jonathan the paperboy, burst through the back yard fence yelling at the top of his lungs.

“ Where is Mr Jackson it’s an emergency! They say’in that Dick raped a white girl in the elevator of that Drexel Building, they took him to the courthouse and now a mob of white people are there asking the court house to hand him over to be lynched. This moment reminded me of Mary Turner from Brooks- Lowndes  in 1918. We will rally together to make sure he will be safe. This was too much information to take in at once, I had so many questions what, how, why, but most of all would he be safe. My Father darted out the back door with his shot gun, before I could even process all I had just heard in the last three minutes. My mother came out with a worried look on her face,

“ I don’t want you kids going anywhere. I mean it, you will not leave this house until your father returns. Understood?”

“ Yes ma’am. We will come in the house in a minute.”  I waited till she closed the back door, wand looked at Israel with tears in my eyes.

“What is going on? Where did all this just come from? I just saw Dick this morning. What if that’s the last time I ever see him, because you know when things like this happen to us you know there is no coming back from that.”

“Starr you can’t always think the worst in things. He may be fine it might just be a misunderstanding,” Israel said with a comforting, yet firm voice.

“You know they never take our side, but that’s besides the point. That mob sounded pretty bad.”

No matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t shake the horrible sense that this was not going to end well. As the sun moved quickly over the western sky, I waited by the window for the sight of my father and the precious face of Dick. The white community wasn’t very far. What if I go and see what’s going on? What if I can help? I know Dick well enough, he’s a close friend he would never do that to anyone ever. Suddenly the phone rang causing me to jump out of my purch in the window sill. I rushed to the phone, praying for good news.

“ Hello Jackson residents.”

“ Starr I need you to listen to me very carefully.” Hearing my father’s voice made me feel safe, but his tone had worry and fear woven through the phone.

“ I need you to get the house ready. I’ve been shot and Dick doesn’t look very well either. This crowd doesn’t look like it will subside anytime soon, so call doctor Morris now!”

I didn’t have time to react I hung up the phone and called doctor Morris. He arrived right as my father and a group of men rushed up the front porch. Opening the door and rushing out my father grabbed me as I ran towards Dick.

“Starr go in the house with Israel now I can’t risk you being out here. Them white men are out to get us so go inside up to your room.” Looking at the limp body in the men’s hand arms I could only think the worst of things. Little did I know that this night would be the longest in my life

 

***

Suddenly loud noises came from the first floor. Men yelling, things shattering, but then everything was quite… eerily quiet. Then out of the stillness of the night a gunshot rang out. The sound of a war rang out on the main floor. Fear started to engulf me as I thought of what might have happened. Running down the stairs, Israel and I found my living room a bloody mess of body’s strewn across the floor. We frantically look for my father and Dick. In the corner I see a man’s body lying on top of another as if he was shielding him. I couldn’t touch it, afraid to discover what I already knew.

“ Pick up his right hand, does it have a gold watch,  please tell me it does not have a gold watch!” I couldn’t breath it felt like a bad dream and I struggled to wake up, but I couldn’t because this had become my reality.

“ We need to get out of here, get you and your mother to a places they won’t find us.” I could tell he had turned into my only protector.  He had lost so many people in his life; his dad and his mother, that I could see devastation in his eyes.

“No I will not leave my father here plus we need to find Dick and get him to safety too.”

“ Starr I’m so sorry” he couldn’t bring himself to look at me. He knelt down and took off his gold watch then grabbed the necklace from the other body. Handing me a gold chain and then my father’s heirloom watch.

“ Now we need to go before” Interrupted by the breaking of a window by a flaming torch. Within ten seconds of the window breaking the whole room was in flames.

“ Run Starr to the back door”

“ But we can’t leave them”

“ Run now” grading my arm Israel dragged me outside to the back yard. Running out to the back alli we started running towards the church. Hot tears were running down my face, as thoughts flew through my head. Why my father?. How could they take an innocent men from this world? All he wanted to do was help his community. And Dick one of the sweetest people I know how could all of this happen because they wrongly accused him of rape. He’s not that type of person!

 

***

          

Before I knew it I had entered the church entrance. In the middle of town square the center of everything. Looking around in my community the whole block was in flames. Gunshots rang throughout the air. Screaming mothers and fathers trying to gather their children from being engulfed by the hell fire rising from the mob. I looked around I couldn’t find him. He had just been by my side. God please help me find him. I can’t live without him.

“Israel! Israel!”

Tears streamed down my burning face, the smoke stung my eyes, and it felt like fire was in my throat and all around me. In the midst of the fire, yelling, and screaming ; I saw a small flicker of light. It was the only hope I had since my whole world was falling apart in front of my burning eyes.

“ Israel are you okay talk to me please say something anything.”  His faint voice was music to my ears.

“ Stay with me you’re the only person I have left” I prayed that this night would end soon but the repercussions would last a lifetime. The world would soon forget this horrific night in Greenwood, but it would be with me my whole life.

 

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