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Opinion | My great grandfather was lynched. Michigan GOP wants to hide that

My great-grandfather’s name was Jesse Lee Bond. He was a 20-year-old cotton farmer from Tennessee.

Kyra Harris Bolden
Kyra Harris Bolden is a Democrat representing Michigan’s 35th House District, which includes Southfield. (Courtesy photo)

On April 28, 1939, he went to the S.Y. Wilson Store in Arlington, Tennessee, to buy farm supplies. The store’s owner, Charles Robert Wilson, kept a record of all purchases, loans, and interest owed. After his purchase, Bond asked for a receipt from the cashier, Sam Wilson, the owner’s son. Following Jesse’s request, an argument transpired. However, Sam Wilson, grudgingly, produced the receipt.

When Charles Robert Wilson heard what happened between my great grandfather and Sam Wilson, he became enraged and immediately sent Sam to bring my great grandfather and the rightfully purchased goods back to the store.

Jesse returned to the store with his Aunt Luanna Bond. Moments after they entered the store, Charles Robert Wilson and his friend and co-worker, William “Bud” Johnson started shooting at Jesse. They chased him out of the store, and with the help of others, caught him. They brought him back to the town square and in front of the store, they shot him to death. He was then castrated, and they dragged his body from behind a truck to the nearby Hatchie River where he was staked to the riverbed.

Five days after the lynching, local authorities “found” his body. On the death certificate, the coroner said the victim “fell into the Hatchie River and was accidentally [sic] drowned.”

The funeral and burial at Grays Creek Church attracted a large crowd. Many from neighboring counties came to protest the actions of the white authorities. No stone was placed on the grave and it remains unmarked today.

There is a book, a documentary, about this and his name is displayed in the National Memorial for Peace and Justice museum in Alabama, among over 4,400 other names of people who have been documented to be lynched

Things like this happened, it happened to my family.

Slavery happened, lynching happened, Redlining happening, government-sanctioned violence based on race HAPPENED.

I too would like to stick my head in the sand and pretend it didn’t… but I can’t, because it happened to MY family and many other families in this nation.

Now, Republicans in the Michigan Legislature want to prevent this type of story from being told in our schools. What happened to my great grandfather was not an uncommon occurrence for that time and it should be told and discussed. But, my colleagues on the other side of the aisle don’t want our children not to know it happened by advancing HB 5097.

Think about the ramifications that lynching had on my family and countless other families: the trauma, the absence of a father for my grandmother, and the economic toll it took on the family for generations. When we don’t understand our history, we are doomed to repeat it. Respectfully, history is not and should not be about your feelings.

We are not going back!

Bridge welcomes guest columns from a diverse range of people on issues relating to Michigan and its future. The views and assertions of these writers do not necessarily reflect those of Bridge or The Center for Michigan. Bridge does not endorse any individual guest commentary submission. If you are interested in submitting a guest commentary, please contact Ron French. Click here for details and submission guidelines.

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