MANSFIELD: The Willie Lynch Letter and Another Fable

Supposedly, on Christmas Day 1712, on the banks of the James River in the Colony of Virginia, a British slave owner from the West Indies, Willie Lynch (the man the term “lynching” was supposedly named after), allegedly gave a speech in which he advised the residents of the colony on how to “break” the Africans they were importing by setting them at odds with each other and thereby turn them into good, compliant slaves.

The “discovery” of the letter from which the speech was read caused quite a stir when it surfaced at the height of the Black Power movement in the early ’70s, but, alas, it’s been proven to be a hoax, a fake, since it used words like “refueling” and “foolproof” that were not in the language until many years later, in the early 20th century. But no matter, blacks continue to believe in the validity of the speech because of the utility of purpose it serves: It basically is saying to black folks that some folks had (and have) a diabolical plan to enslave them by setting them at each other’s throats, so it served as a didactic, a cautionary tale, meant to alert blacks to the diabolical machinations of those whites — and thereby avoid them.

So in a sense, the hoax is useful. However, there’s another supposed “incident” that’s making the rounds on the same Internet that provided the platform for the Willie Lynch letter to be so widely disseminated and gain a fame of sorts. But this one has another purpose altogether.

Ever hear of the “Devil’s Punchbowl?” I’d only heard the term once in passing in California back in the mid ’70s. It was in reference to a hiking and wilderness area of the Angeles National Forest about 60 miles outside of Los Angeles. I recall hearing about it because this was the incident that awakened me to the fact I would never be a real member of the counterculture, a true hippie.

Some of the folks I was hanging out with (for the purpose of doing all kinds of bliss-inducing and mind-bending substances) were planning a hiking and camping trip to the Devil’s Punchbowl, and when I piped up and asked if there was a Holiday Inn close by, not only was I looked upon askance, I was “86ed” from the group, which really wasn’t all that bad since I still had an affinity for soap and water, something many of my unwashed fellow travelers has eschewed — judging by their smell — years before.

But I digress.

The Devil’s Punchbowl I’m referencing has to do with a video that’s going viral on some black blogs. Supposedly, not long after the conclusion of the Civil War, newly freed slaves crowded into Natchez, MS, disturbing the white residents to no end. So they were allegedly herded into an area known as the Devil’s Punchbowl and essentially walled in and all 20,000 were left to die while Union soldiers stood guard and prevented anyone from leaving.

My first thought was, “Why haven’t I — who spends a goodly amount of time researching and reading about that era — heard about this before?” And I have friends that are much better read on the era than I am, and they’ve never heard of it either.

The reason is simple: It’s total bullshit. Just another hoax.

But this one possesses none of the redeeming qualities of benevolence of the Willie Lynch letter. In fact, the two white “experts” featured on the video I saw appear to be making this yarn up to cast aspersions on the Union soldiers who allegedly kept the blacks pent up and allowed them to die, but it also served the dual purpose because these two rednecks were saying that the freed blacks were begging to return to the safety of the plantations they had recently been freed from.

These whites are cleverly refighting the Civil War, and getting a good laugh at blacks in the process. But they can only laugh as long as we believe them.

From CoolCleveland correspondent Mansfield B. Frazier Frazier’s From Behind The Wall: Commentary on Crime, Punishment, Race and the Underclass by a Prison Inmate is available in hardback. Snag your copy and have it signed by the author at http://NeighborhoodSolutionsInc.

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