In the winter of 1692, Massachusetts Bay Colony was rocked by allegations of witchcraft. In January, a group of young girls from Salem Village claimed to be possessed by the devil. The girls were taken to a doctor who determined they had been “bewitched”. The girls aged 9 and 11 accused a local slave named Tituba of witchcraft.
In early February Tituba was arrested and admitted to being a witch. During her confession, she accused other women in the village of being witches. By May of 1692 governor William Phips established a special court to handle the trials of those accused of witchcraft. On June 2nd, Bridget Bishop was convicted of witchcraft and hanged eight days later. This was the beginning of the Salem Witch Trials.
If you travel to Salem, Massachusetts you can visit the Victim’s Memorial, take tours of the jail and visit several preserved structures in Danvers and Salem. What you won’t find are monuments built to honor the brave men who had to hang and torture the women and men accused of witchcraft. This bothers me. They were husbands, fathers, sons and brothers. They did what they had to do to protect their way of life. They are part of history. Where are their statues?
This is a ridiculous argument, but not really. The officers of the court who arrested, questioned, prosecuted and executed the accused were acting under the legal authority granted to them by their government. They are no better or worse than the Confederate soldiers who participated in the attempted overthrow the United States government.
Last Friday torch bearing mobs of white supremacists marched on Charlottesville. The pictures and videos taken that night are a visual reminders of the mob mentality, hysteria and hatred that fueled the atrocities committed in Salem, Massachusetts. Angry mobs of white men assembled at night with torches has historically ended in castrations, hangings and people burning at the stake. This assembly ended the next day when one member of the lynch mob drove his car into a crowd of people injuring 19 and killing 32-year-old Heather Heyer.
The tragic events in Charlottesville were 325 years and 573 miles removed from the Witch Trials in Salem, yet both American horror stories shared roots in hatred and hysteria. The people behind the Salem Witch Trials and the white supremacists gathering in Charlottesville weaponized the fear and anxiety of their allies. Once a mob is formed and inhibitions are lowered it becomes that much easier to kill those dehumanized by their ideology.
What happened in Charlottesville was not about monuments. The removal of Confederate Monuments is to racism what not having dinner on the table is to domestic violence. Issues related to race often remain hidden under the surface; sometimes they just need a spark to remind us how tenuous our truces are. Too often we confuse the absence of large racial outbursts as signs of transcending our racial past, but this is an illusion. We live in a country that continues to struggle with the legacy of white supremacy.
Dr. Eddie Glaude writes and talks extensively about the "Value Gap" in America. The value gap is the belief that white people matter more than the rest of us. His thesis is a retelling of American history and an examination into how this belief continues to shape our society. What we saw in Charlottesville was another attempt by white supremacists to reshuffle the socioeconomic order of our society through fear and intimidation.
The scapegoating of racial, religious and sexual minorities is a necessary recruitment tool for hate groups trying to grow their numbers. The images of torch wielding xenophobes and bigots are disheartening, but not nearly as disheartening as the social media posts of seemingly normal people who have tried to justify their actions. The soft bigotry at the core of some people's need to justify and sympathize with bigots is just as damaging to race relations as walking up and down American streets with Swastikas and Confederate flags supporting them.
We found a way to preserve the history of the Salem Witch Trials without canonizing the villains who committed the evil acts. 99.99% of our society can’t name one person responsible for the hangings, stoning and torture that defined that dark period of American history, yet we all know what happened. If the statues stay we should at least be honest about the terror they represented for 22% of America’s population at the time of the Civil War.