Lynching Language

The local ABC News affiliate in Lynchburg, Virginia, is reporting a new online petition to change the name of the city, “in light of the Black Lives Matter movement.” The petition states that “We need to hold the city accountable. If black lives truly matter to the city, then such a word defining the hanging of people, primarily people of color can and will be eliminated.”

Jerry Falwell, president of Liberty University in Lynchburg, supports the change, even though the origin of the  city’s name has nothing to do with lynching. It was named after John Lynch, a Quaker who was quite “progressive” for the 1780s and who outspokenly opposed slavery. Never mind, said Falwell, “people don’t know the city was named after John Lynch, but automatically think the name has a negative connotation. He said the change would permanently eliminate any stigma.”

If the standard to be applied is avoiding the possibility that someone somewhere might misunderstand or be offended, the names of several other Virginia municipalities should probably be reconsidered. What about Blacksburg, home of Virginia Tech? Might that not suggest a city limited to Blacks (but would that now be considered a bad thing?), even though the town was named after William Black, who deeded his family’s land to the state. And what about Leesburg? Surely that must go, no?, even though in 1758 the town was named after “the influential Thomas Lee and not, as is popular belief, his son Francis Lightfoot Lee who lived in Loudoun and brought up the bill to establish Leesburg, nor as is sometimes thought, Robert E. Lee (his great-grandnephew).” And what of Stuarts Draft, about 10 miles or so from where I’m writing? It was not named after Lee’s most famous lieutenant, Jeb Stuart, but Thomas Stuart, the original purchaser of the land in 1749. Mt. Jackson?  Stonewall, right? Wrong. The town has already been renamed once, in 1826, after Andrew Jackson. But if monuments to Andrew Jackson deserve to be destroyed, I suppose it’s no big deal to rename towns named after him.

Perhaps, however, those who want to lynch Lynchburg’s name are unwittingly onto something. According to Lynchburg’s “Chief Public History Officer” (does that mean there are sub-chief public history officers? And what’s with that “Chief”? Aren’t there any Indigenous People around there to be offended?), … anyway, according to the Chief, “the term lynching is actually named after Lynch’s brother, Charles Lynch. Charles Lynch would tie British soldiers to a tree and beat them until they cried ‘Liberty!’ which would stop the beating since that meant they agreed with the revolution. From there it evolved into what we know today — the racist killings of African Americans.”

Actually, beating people until they say “Liberty” can easily be viewed as a praiseworthy antecedent of beating (or firing) them unless they stop saying “All Lives Matter.”

Say What?