A Death Sentence in America: Black Skin

H. Michael Harvey, JD
7 min readMay 27, 2020
In the 1950s this building served as the general store where my family bought their supplies, ©2020 Cascade Publishing House

It’s a hard world out there for Black people in America. Especially hard for Black men. When a Black man gets up in the morning, looks in the mirror as he grooms his face, teeth, and hair, he does not know if the executioner will carry out the unspoken death warrant on his life that day.

It is not easy to muster up the strength to walk out the door at the beginning of a new day, even before COVID-2019 arrived in the fall of 2019. The horrors inflicted on Black men in the full light of any given day on any given street in any given park in America sadden my soul.

Early in life, I learned that just because my skin was black, I had an extra burden to carry. I was told this one spring morning in 1956 in the building pictured above. That day my maternal grandmother, with tears in her eyes, explained the cruel reality of Jim Crow to me. This lesson on the nature of the ethos of white supremacy was so unfathomable to my five-year-old brain that I remember Granny’s words and the place she uttered them 63 years later. You could say, that moment in time seared into my mind forever.

“White folks will kill you baby if you get out of your place. I don’t mean to yell at you, but Mamma just wants you safe. You can’t go behind the counter where that cash register is,” she cried.

“But Mamma, I was just playing with the little boy, and the truck got away, and he ran back there to catch the truck, and I ran back there too,” I said.

“I know, baby, but he is white. He can go back there behind that counter. You’re Black, baby, you can’t do and go where white folks can,” she said, trying to make me understand the world according to white folks with a god complex.

On February 1, 2020, I drove down to my ancestral hometown, pulled up in the town square, and took this picture. The general store is now an office building. In the first half of the 20th century, this is where the farmers, both Black and white, went to purchase their farming supplies and groceries they did not grow or raise.

I watched my maternal grandfather interact with white people. He was a quiet, no-nonsense man who kept his shotgun at the ready above his bed. He did not shuffle, jive, or kowtow. If a situation became stressful, Granny would stand behind him…

--

--

H. Michael Harvey, JD

Harvey is Living Now Book Awards 2020 Bronze Medalist for his memoir Freaknik Lawyer: A Memoir on the Craft of Resistance. Available at haroldmichaelharvey.com