Public Hanging of a Black Man Used as Table Decor: An Apology is Not Enough

I cannot fathom how anyone could be so ignorant as to think the use of the picture of the 1895 hanging of Richard Burelson in Texas on its tables would be funny. Nonetheless, Joe's Crab Shack in Roseville, Minnesota used the photograph with a comic caption above the condemned man's head which said, "All I said was 'I don't like the Gumbo.'" Tyrone Williams, who was dining at the restaurant, originally shared the picture to Facebook and it's been shared thousands of times since then.

Some have reported the photograph as a lynching and others have stated that the error of the restaurant was less significant, because the black man in the photograph was arrested, tried, and convicted for a robbery and murder. Historian Clay Riley asserts that "Richard Burleson was hanged in Groesbeck, Texas for the crime for which he had been convicted." (MPR News)

Does the public execution and death of a convicted felon, particularly when he is African American, make for a better dinner joke than one of the thousands of African Americans who were murdered at the hands of public displays of grotesque violence, white supremacy, and racism? I certainly hope not.

Equal Justice Initiative's report "Lynching in America: Confronting the Legacy of Racial Terror" documents 3,959 racial terror lynchings of African Americans in 12 states between 1877 and 1950. The report asserts the lynching of African Americans was "terrorism" and a widely supported "phenomenon used to enforce racial subordination and segregation." The systemic abuse and murder of African Americans was widely supported by the white dominant culture - so much so that the picture displayed at the Crab Shack showed crowds of people who gathered to attend the grotesque event.

As an evangelical leader, I am horrified and appalled at how often the Bible and Christian teachings have been used to justify the systemic racism and oppression of African Americans and people of color in the United States. The Christian faith has misused Scripture in many ways, from the substantiation of the moral ills of slavery to contemporary discourse against Muslims and others. When we misuse scripture, we continue to justify abuse and rejection of the "other." May we no longer allow our faith in the person of Christ to be so corrupted. Rather, would we stand in solidarity with those who have been oppressed and continue to be subjugated and viewed as "less than" within our society.

I stand with others who are calling for action to be taken against Joe's Crab Shack and other institutions that have so blatantly supported racist actions. Might someone within the institution be held accountable. May whoever is responsible for this course of action face the consequences of their decision and, at a minimum, lose their job.