Opinion: Kennesaw State University cheerleaders are kneeling in the stream of history

Five KSU cheerleaders take a knee during the national anthem prior to the matchup between Kennesaw State and North Greenville, Saturday, Sept. 30, 2017. (Special to AJC/by Cory Hancock)

A Duke and University of North Carolina graduate, David Parker is a professor of history at Kennesaw State University and has been the department’s assistant chair since August 2009.  Parker teaches classes in Georgia history, the history of American religion, the Gilded Age, and research methods.

In this piece, Parker discusses the controversy at Kennesaw State University over the five cheerleaders who took a knee on the football field during the national anthem, putting their actions in the context of African-American history in America and Georgia.

Be forewarned, the piece references lynching, including the practice of turning news photos of lynchings into postcards. One such postcard is shown.

Dr. Parker wants it known these are his views and not those of Kennesaw State. I want it known this is one of the most powerful columns I have ever had the honor to share on the AJC Get Schooled blog.

By David B. Parker

A few weeks ago, just before a football game against the visiting Crusaders from North Greenville University, five Kennesaw State University cheerleaders knelt during the playing of the National Anthem to protest police brutality against African-Americans. KSU officials promptly banned the cheerleaders from the football field at future games until after the  anthem had been played.

Yesterday, in a letter to the KSU community, President Sam Olens announced, “I have decided that at Kennesaw State university’s next home game on November 11, the pre-game program will be restored to its original format, with the cheerleaders taking the field before the singing of the National Anthem.”

He could have stopped there, but he didn’t. “I will stand during the National Anthem,” he continued, “to honor the women and men who have served in our nation’s armed forces. While I choose this action, I do not believe that this debate has to be a choice between honoring our veterans and protecting the freedom of speech. We must be able to do both.”

For one of my classes a couple of days ago, I had students read The Atlanta Constitution’s coverage of the lynching of Sam Hose. Hose was an African-American accused of murdering Alfred Cranford, a white man, and raping Mattie Cranford, his wife. Sam Hose was lynched in a field in Newnan, Georgia, on the afternoon of Sunday, April 23, 1899.

Dr. David Parker

The Constitution covered the event in great detail. “The spot selected was an ideal one for such an affair,” the paper said, “and the stake was in full view of those who stood about and with unfeigning satisfaction saw the negro meet his death and tortured before the flames killed him.” The Constitution estimated the crowd at 2,000 many of whom rode from points north on special train cars set up to handle those from Atlanta who wanted to be there.

“Before the fire was lighted his left ear was severed from his body. Then the right ear was cut away…. Other portions of his body were mutilated by the knives of those who gathered about him, but he was not wounded to such an extent that he was not fully conscious and could not feel the excruciating pain.” We talked in class about how lynchings often had a ritualistic aspect, including such mutilations. The Constitution does not say so, but we know from other accounts that the “other portions of his body” included his genitalia.

And then they lit the fire. Only then, the paper says, did Hose scream.

Through it all, the Constitution reported, the crowd was “orderly and well-behaved,” at least until the fire had died down. Then there was a mad rush to claim every bit of bone and flesh that had survived the flames.

I talked with my students about another lynching, three decades later, in Marion, Indiana, at which two black men were hanged. A picture on the front page of the local newspaper the next day showed the dozens of people who came to revel in the aftermath, including a couple—they look like they’re on a date—looking into the camera, holding hands and smiling.

That led to a discussion of “Without Sanctuary,” the website and book of lynching photographs and postcards —postcards! — collected by Atlanta art dealer James Allen. When we go on vacation, we buy postcards with pictures of local attractions on the front, write “Having a great time, wish you were here” on the back, and send them to friends back home. One of the postcards Allen found shows the suspended body of a black man, surrounded by white spectators, from a 1910 lynching in Texas. The inscription: “All OK and would like to get a post from you, Bill. This was some Raw Bunch.”

A picture on the front page of an Indiana newspaper in 1930 showed the lynching of two men. The newspaper photo became the postcard shown here.

We talked about the number of lynchings over the years—well over 4,000 between 1880 and 1930, almost all in the South, almost all black men. We looked at a list of the 460 lynched in Georgia. All but 19 were African-American.

When I read Sam Olens’s letter yesterday afternoon, I thought again of James Allen. Several years ago, Allen tried to arrange an exhibition of his lynching photographs. No one in Georgia would touch it. The first two exhibitions were in New York, with a third in Pittsburgh. Michael Lomax, now president and CEO of the United Negro College Fund but at the time an English professor in Atlanta, said, “This shows how reluctant Atlanta is to confront something other than a chamber of commerce, sanitized version of its history.” Rick Beard, then director of the Atlanta History Center, put it more bluntly: “The ‘city too busy to hate’ is often also the city too busy to think deeply about the painful aspects of its past.”

Olens’s letter reminded me of the importance of the Black Lives Matter movement, because historically, in Georgia and elsewhere, black lives have emphatically not mattered.

I regret President Olens’s implications that “taking a knee” during the playing of the National Anthem is a sign of disrespect to our veterans and that the cheerleaders’ actions were a context-less exercise of free speech. I wish he could understand that the cheerleaders were not just taking a knee on a football field; they were kneeling in the stream of history, a history that we cannot forget.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Reader Comments 0

239 comments
liberal4life
liberal4life

When someone (usually minority group) protests, the one who is the target of the protest tries to change to topic. Unfortunately, in the current "kneeling" movement, those who in the power have successfully changed the issue to honoring/respecting flag/country/service people. Although the issue of freedom of expression is also critically important, I think the whole point of the protest - social injustice against minority and the lace of efforts to change it - is completely lost. I am so proud of those cheerleaders - and NFL players - but we need another form of protest to bring people's attention to the social injustice.

Chris Mashburn
Chris Mashburn

So to kneel for equality how many Black students get Athletic scholarships at KSU compared to White students? Give equal scholarships across the board.

Sue Scott
Sue Scott

BOYCOTT hiring these losers, teach them a real lesson about the real world.

Ray Barclay
Ray Barclay

BLM as an organization is a home grown terrorist group they don't care for blacks look at Chicago black on black shooting, look at the abortion industrys black murder rate and don't see them protesting

feedback1
feedback1

By far the worst thing blacks will endure is growing up in homes without fathers present. Currently 3 out of 4 black children do. Most problems plaguing the black community have their origin in this sad statistic. 

As recently as the 1960s three out of four black homes included fathers.

BeOfService
BeOfService

@feedback1 So how did this "plague" begin, if 3/4 of black families still had fathers present in the 1960s?  Did a large % of black fathers just decide to abandon their families in the 1970s?  No, those were the years of the "War on Drugs",  and the introduction of mandatory lengthy penalties for drug possession.

Jackalope
Jackalope

"Between 1880 and 1930"  and STILL people just can't move on.  We've gone through WW2 and the Nazis, the Korean War, the Vietnamese War, the Iraqi War, the War in Afghanistan....millions have died since then...and still the racists just can't come together.

Cliff Bennett
Cliff Bennett

Happy Veterans Day KSU,If It Were Not For Us You Would Not Exist!

Roger Lozano
Roger Lozano

Last year, according to the Washington Post’s tally, just 16 unarmed black men, out of a population of more than 20 million, were killed by the police. The year before, the number was 36. These figures are likely close to the number of black men struck by lightning in a given year, considering that happens to about 300 Americans annually and black men are 7 percent of the population. And they include cases where the shooting was justified, even if the person killed was unarmed. This illustrates that these killings are incredibly rare, and that it’s completely misleading to talk about an “epidemic” of them. You don’t hear people talk about an epidemic of lightning strikes and claim they are afraid to go outside because of it.

Michael O. Amosu
Michael O. Amosu

Sir, your statement doesn't even touch on racial profiling and the many unjustified police stops and obsessive force used. Stop trying to dismiss something just because it doesn't happen to you.

Joseph Williams
Joseph Williams

You're missing the point. It's not just about police killings- it's about the social injustices and so much more.

LookCloser
LookCloser

How about getting the black culture to stop killing itself?  Maybe raise your children to be God fearing and not mindless, rap listening, thug imitating losers?  It appears that Blacks hate themselves and each other worse than whites hate them.   


Stop killing yourselves then you'll see the numbers decline in murders amongst your people.  It's a simple math problem.

scooderpup
scooderpup

Spoken like an avid watcher of the alternative facts dirty old men channel.....

Loisrae
Loisrae

The "social injustices" have been earned by raising your children to be thugs and thieves!  I still remember reading the question by the mother of a thief that got shot:  "How else is he supposed to get things?"  Children need to be raised with good values!  You don't achieve anything by "demanding" it.....you EARN it!


Roberta Crocker- Cook
Roberta Crocker- Cook

Just take them off the team and then they could be free to do which ever they like wherever they like. Like the NFL they are on the job.

Tiffany Jay
Tiffany Jay

For exercising free speech? Yeah, okay...

Kevin Kitchen
Kevin Kitchen

It's their right to free speech to choose to participate or not. Personally, I participate myself but I don't think it's cool to force people to participate. And, to be honest, their grievances have merit.

scooderpup
scooderpup

Baseless accusations make you seem racist.

Carol Griffin
Carol Griffin

Those college kids aren't kneeling because they are on drugs. Are you really that clueless or do you just like to believe that all blacks are on drugs? That kind of attitude is why they are kneeling.

Regina Nowak
Regina Nowak

Kudos being sent to the cheerleaders who stand to honor our flag and anthem and to those who are kneeling.. you probably don;t even know why you are doing it....just part of the flock followers.

Bob Sweeney
Bob Sweeney

Tell us, what unfair treatment, what should we have given you?

Gwen Knight
Gwen Knight

You don’t know why they’re kneeling! You’re probably some privileged redneck who isn’t outraged about the unfair treatment of the cheerleader’s cohorts. Kudos to the cheerleaders who kneel for change.

Gwen Knight
Gwen Knight

Bob Sweeney let’s start with the conviction and firing of the police officer who shot an innocent man in the back while he walked away WITH HIS HANDS UP. Instead her charges were erased and she was given a promotion. You need more?

John Nemeth
John Nemeth

They know why. You just don't like it.

LookCloser
LookCloser

How about start with stopping your own people shooting and killing each other.  That numbers are staggering.  Stop blaming and get the core of the problem.

BeOfService
BeOfService

@LookCloser Irrelevant point.  It has no impact on the veracity of Gwen Knight's statement.  Just shows your racism.

Loisrae
Loisrae

Wow!  You sure can distort the truth!


Gwen Knight
Gwen Knight

I’m sure Kennesaw state isn’t in the habit of accepting morons. These girls know and probably have encountered racial scrutiny. Just because you’re ignorant, doesn’t automatically deem others ignorant also.

Paul Allan Novak
Paul Allan Novak

Gwen: like I said, they don’t know why they are kneeling and you are a racist.

Tasha Morris
Tasha Morris

No, Paul Allan Novak you're acting like your dumb a** don't know why they're kneeling. Either way this is a free county. They can do what the hell they want.

Paul Allan Novak
Paul Allan Novak

Gwenie: have you thought that it’s you that has to learn?? Why is she kneeling??

John Nemeth
John Nemeth

Yes they do. You just don't like it.

Paul Allan Novak
Paul Allan Novak

Johnnie: why are they kneeling. More whites are shot and killed by police every year than blacks and Hispanics combined.

Carol Griffin
Carol Griffin

Perfect example of white privilege is to assume they don't know why they are kneeling. I'm grateful that as a white person, I know the reason and know their reason for kneeling has merit. You don't assume that the white cheerleaders are so clueless and care so little that they don't join the black cheerleaders in protesting???

scooderpup
scooderpup

Paul, watching the alternative fact dirty old men channel is proven to lower your knowledge on actual news. When you spew your misinformation, you appear uninformed.