What’s Rotten in Savannah The Ancestors of the Killers of Troy Davis

Prologue

Hello, I am TroyDavis.

You killed me on September 21, 2011. You wanted to kill me at 7 p.m., but it was 11:08 before your Georgia venom took me down. Now I walk your streets with the poor and homeless and haunt your gated “communities” while you drink too much wine and gorge yourselves on dead meat. I am the resurrection and the way.

I am alive in every Occupy Movement from Atlanta to Yemen. We are coming to you. We are now moving toward you. Your little needles, poisoned tipped, ain’t gonna work for you much longer. Your houses will be turned into houses of hospitality and gladness, and joy shall fill your now empty rooms. We will have peace and solidarity, shalom and equality. But beware: The gospel is as bad news for non-repentant killers as it is hard news for faithful practitioners.

Come out, come out, my people.

 I. The Ancestors of State Killing

Charles A.L. Lamar was a 1 percenter, serving King Cotton to amass his wealth. His heart grew rotten selling cotton down near the swamps and rice lands around Savannah. He was one of too many who wanted his way to make money with plenty of honey that oozed from the brows of slaves.

We must destroy the Union so we can buy and sell those African bodies and their labor. We need them for slavery. Slaves are the base of our Southern civilization, our way of life. If a plantation system, like a political empire and capitalist markets, does not grow and expand, it dies. It must not die.

 Lamar will kill and die to have things his way. He will defy the law and send his death ship, the Wanderer, from Savannah to Africa to bring back human beings to sell into slavery.

 But Lamar ultimately did not get his way, thanks be to the God of Abraham Lincoln. Lamar crumpled to the earth leading an assault on Union soldiers, whose victory became the basis of the 13th Amendment, adopted December 6, 1865: “Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.” (Emphasis added.)

Still, we must listen to the rivers of woe.

620,000 dead soldiers and millions more from the auction block.

 II. The Wanderer

By 1857, those who wanted to destroy the Union and build a Southern slave nation — the “secessionists” — realized that reopening the slave trade with Africa would rend our common fabric. Thus arose a double strategy. First, to purchase more slaves would expand slavery westward in the United States and southward into Cuba and Nicaragua. Second, to defy the federal law against the international slave trade would encourage the white masses to boldness and rejection of the Union. Fire-eaters and poor whites would kill our nation and citizens in order to own slaves, to pursue the international slave trade, and to conquer new lands under Southern sovereignty.

620,000 dead soldiers and millions more from the auction block.

This is the sordid tale of the last American ship to sail in the U.S. slave trade, from Savannah to the mouth of the Congo River and back. The international slave trade had been outlawed by the U.S. Congress in 1807, taking effect on January 1, 1808. In 1857, the Wanderer set out in brazen disregard for the law of the land.

Like our 21st-century drones, the Wanderer was a bitter fruit of human imagination and technological know-how. Built in 1856, she was a luxurious yacht with all the finery for sumptuous meals and lavish entertainment. A toy for the rich white elite, she became a death machine for Africans. Sold and transmogrified from heaven to hell, she became a slaver. Outfitted for human cargo, the Wanderer sailed into bondage and death.

The shared space for the captives had no toilets, and they resembled torture boxes, 12 inches wide, 18 inches high and six feet long.

On a gurney about the same size, Troy Davis was chained down and murdered, not by salt water filling his lungs but by toxins filling his blood.

This size offered less space than most slave ships, but the reduction is not surprising. Charles Lamar and his fellow slave dealers’ inner demons studied ways to minimize costs and maximize profits. Their bottom line was making money — cutting costs in buying and raising prices in selling — through the most awful of human corruption, the selling of human bodies.

The Wanderer arrived at the mouth of the Congo River in the autumn of 1858. Slave hunters and purchasers, along with security guards, picked up Africans as young as 13 years old. In the former place of lavish entertainment, the luxury yacht turned slave ship became the scene of a battle to survive  Of the 409 slaves bought and chained, 80 died crossing the violent sea, murdered by the slave powers just like Troy Davis on September 21, 2011.

Was an ancestor of Troy Davis aboard that ship? It feels like it. Troy Davis and Charles Lamar were both from Savannah.

Charles Lamar was arrested and charged with slave trading. He awaited Georgia justice in a state where his father-in-law was the local federal district judge.

Lamar walked away freely to the battlefield. He now wanted to kill Yankees, so off to war he marched with his own cadre of Confederates. He gave what he took, a life for lives. On April 16, 1865, near Columbus, Georgia, a week after Lee had surrendered at Appomattox, Charles Augustus Lafayette Lamar sank earthward, dead.

More than 120 years later, in Savannah, Troy Davis was arrested and charged with murdering a white police officer. He awaited Georgia justice. On September 21, 2011, inJackson, Georgia, mere weeks before his 42nd birthday, Troy Anthony Davis sank into the execution gurney, dead.

 III. The Emancipator

On March 4, 1865, Inauguration Day, Pennsylvania Avenue was “a sea of mud,” with water splashing everyone who gathered to hear the president’s immortal interpretation of the meaning of the Civil War and of American slavery. As John Wilkes Booth hovered hatefully in the crowd,Lincolnspoke:

 Both parties deprecated war, but one of them would make war rather than let the nation survive, and the other would accept war rather than let it perish, and the war came….

One-eighth of the whole population were colored slaves, not distributed generally over the Union, but localized in the southern part of it. These slaves constituted a peculiar and powerful interest. All knew that this interest was somehow the cause of the war. To strengthen, perpetuate, and extend this interest was the object for which the insurgents would rend the Union even by war, while the Government claimed no right to do more than to restrict the territorial enlargement of it.

Neither party expected for the war the magnitude or the duration which it has already attained. Neither anticipated that the cause of the conflict might cease with or even before the conflict itself should cease. Each looked for an easier triumph, and a result less fundamental and astounding. Both read the same Bible and pray to the same God, and each invokes His aid against the other. It may seem strange that any men should dare to ask a just God’s assistance in wringing their bread from the sweat of other men’s faces, but let us judge not, that we be not judged. The prayers of both could not be answered. That of neither has been answered fully.

The Almighty has His own purposes. “Woe unto the world because of offenses; for it must needs be that offenses come, but woe to that man by whom the offense cometh.” If we shall suppose that American slavery is one of those offenses which, in the providence of God, must needs come, but which, having continued through His appointed time, He now wills to remove, and that He gives to both North and South this terrible war as the woe due to those by whom the offense came, shall we discern therein any departure from those divine attributes which the believers in a living God always ascribe to Him?

Fondly do we hope, fervently do we pray, that this mighty scourge of war may speedily pass away. Yet, if God wills that it continue until all the wealth piled by the bondsman’s two hundred and fifty years of unrequited toil shall be sunk, and until every drop of blood drawn with the lash shall be paid by another drawn with the sword, as was said three thousand years ago, so still it must be said “the judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether.”

With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation’s wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan, to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations.” (Emphasis added.)

 If the family of the victim murdered allegedly at the hands of Troy Davis had heard the voice of God’s offer of reconciliation through Abraham Lincoln’s words, perhaps they would not have screamed and pleaded for this man’s murder.

Who does speak and act for the pro-death penalty lobby? Are they deformed children of the pro-slavery argument? Is there one God with many contradictory voices, or are there many Gods who contradict one another? In whom do we trust? A god who kills? Or a God who gives life, mercy and justice? A God of the slaves way down in Egyptland? Or the god of the slaveholders?

 IV. The Survivors

What if Charles Lamar and his minions do not receive the death penalty?

The New York Times editorialized a threat and a promise that came true in 1865: “The entire population of the North will wage upon [the South] a relentless war of extermination.”

620,000 dead soldiers and millions more from the auction block.

Oh, say, can you hear, the hoofbeats of John Brown’s horses rattling into Harpers Ferry at midnight on the cloudy, misty night of October 16, 1859? Can you feel the song of Langston Hughes to all the Blacks of theUSA?

 SinceHarpers Ferry

Is alive with ghosts today,

Immortal raiders

Come again to town —

Perhaps,

You will recall

John Brown.

 — From “October 16” by Langston Hughes

 What has changed since Charles Lamar and his cronies designed a slave ship that minimized space and humanity to maximize profits? American corporations, prisons and state governments today are squeezing human beings into poverty that maximizes profits and cuts costs. Have you heard of the suicides among Chinese workers employed by American corporations to make our toys? These wage slaves are squeezed by time, space and meaningless work, another device in the tool box of death for the oppressed.

Of course many of you, dear readers, got a bucket of cold water thrown into your faces as you awakened to the modern South when, through passion and scapegoat lust, the body of Troy Davis was finally stilled, like John Brown’s at the end of the gallows rope or Baptist John’s head brought in on a platter to flatter the thin one dancing.

Today the spirit of slavery and murder continues in nearby Columbus at the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation, formerly the School of the Americas, where torture and the fine art of slaughter are taught to our helpers — death squads — who will kill to keep markets stable.

Spoke Lincoln at Gettysburg:

 It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us — that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion — that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain — that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom — and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth. (Emphasis added.)

Epilogue

Hello, I am TroyDavis.

I live in your work to abolish the death penalty. I live in you. You, the living legacy of the Abolitionist movement, must reach into the present, despite how you got here through the spirit of domination and slavery.

How can we redeem the past? That is the question. Let us sit together at the Welcome Table of life and love. Sit with us, Charles Lamar, with the children of the Wanderer who died on the way toSavannah.

Let us sit together and the death penalty will sink earthward, dead.  W

 

Eduard Loring is a Partner at the Open Door Community. “The War Over Slavery” is a series of occasional columns.