I’m drawn again to this little spit in the road about six miles outside of Tupelo, Mississippi on Road 1233 in the Town of Plantersville. I stand near a pasture across the road. Two hundred feet to the north, there’s an abandoned structure that’s falling in on itself. A weathered sign with faded lettering in the front reads “Unity Church.” It hangs awkwardly from a broken chain banging in the wind against a post. The roadside is littered with beer bottles and fast food wrappers. A car hubcap lies nearby.
My fascination with this place has been a mystery to me but last night I decided to look up the church’s name and location on the internet. Now I know its dark past: a black man was lynched here a hundred years ago. He stood accused of taking liberties with the daughter of a white family living nearby. The article says that the congregant’s members lynched him in the pasture. The large oak tree about a hundred feet off to my right was used as the instrument of his murder. The tree looks like it’s been rooted there forever.
I close my eyes and try to picture a horrific scene unfolding: men with torches drag a scared black man from the church, his hands tied behind his back. He begs for mercy from his white captors to no avail. The mob takes him to the oak tree. A rustling of leaves is heard as one of the men tests the strength of the branch by tugging down hard on the rope with all of his might. While the hangman is conducting his test, a preacher asks God to forgive the accused of his sins and his wickedness.
After the final “Amens” it begins. It takes the strength of three men to pull the black man off the ground. After he’s hoisted, they tie the rope off against the trunk. He’s kicking about haphazardly. He is in agony; his eyes are bulging out of their sockets. He wears a wild look of desperation. The men take it in with evil grins on their faces. After what seems like an eternity, the victim stops his desperate dance; he hangs limp, his tongue hanging from one side of his mouth. Urine stains his blue jeans. One of the men steps up, removes his cigar from his mouth and presses the lit end against the victim’s bare ankle to elicit signs of life. There is no movement.
The men in the mob slap one another on the back congratulating themselves for a job well-done. They occasionally glance at the corpse to admire their handiwork as they converse amongst themselves. Eventually the conversations wind down and—one by one—they drift away and head back to their respectable homes to be with their wives and children.
I shake off the waking dream but continue to stare at the tree for a few minutes. Then I unconsciously reach down and rub the red, circular-shaped birthmark on my left ankle. It’s throbbing like a son of a bitch.