I often wonder what went though Claude Neal’s mind when he realized that he was being accused of murdering his friend, Lola Cannidy, a 19-year-old blonde with blue eyes, 83 years ago this week.
(Lola Cannidy’s mother pictured crying where her daughter’s body was found in Marianna, Florida)
You see, during Jim Crow, which lasted from the 1870s until 1968 in some forms, young Black boys and girls absolutely knew that at a certain age friendship in general–and sexual relationships in particular–were expressly forbidden with Whites.
I wonder what Neal thought when after Cannidy’s body was found, law enforcement immediately targeted him–a 23-year-old farm hand with a wife and daughter–as the suspect because of his culturally suspect friendship through the years with Cannidy.
I wonder whether Neal even knew that under the United States Constitution, that he was to be afforded something called Due Process? Or whether Neal or any of the other Blacks in Marianna, a town an hour west of the Capitol in Tallahassee, thought about joining resources to hire counsel to confront his accusers while working to save his life? Or whether learned counsel, especially if Black, would have faced the angry mob for daring to be an educated, “uppity” Negro?
I wonder whether Neal’s White accusers, many as poorly educated and mired in the same abject poverty due to the Great Depression as the local Blacks, were aware that Neal had Due Process rights and deserved to have his day in court? (Like their Donald Trump supporting descendants, probably not)
I wonder what Claude Neal thought 83 years ago today as law enforcement took him on an odyssey across the Alabama line and back, “claiming” to protect him from the lynch mobs that were being called upon by the local White citizens? Did he think that he would survive to proffer his innocence? Did he think his jailers would protect and serve him by safeguarding his Constitutional rights?
Or did he know that the end was near?
I wonder whether Neal thought that as day turned into night, that the longer he lived, that the greater his chances were to receive his day in court and perhaps, even survive?
I wonder how disconsolate Neal must have been when a group of six White men finally broke into his cell, abducted him, tied him to a tree, and sodomized him repeatedly? I wonder whether he prayed that the beatings and the raping would be the worse and that he would be allowed to go home to his family, battered, bruised and scarred–but alive?
Or, I wonder whether in his agony, as the lashes from the whips and belts increased, and as sticks, gun muzzles and fingers from the self-proclaimed “Good Christian men” supposedly acting to “defend the honor of white women,” sodomized him to a bloody pulp; did Neal stay silent, or did he beg for death to end his misery?
We will never know…
I wonder what those so-called “Christian” terrorists thought as they slashed Neal’s throat, riddled his body with bullets, and cut off his genitalia for sale? Did they think to themselves, “Christ would approve?” I wonder what those 2,000 plus self-proclaimed “Christian” terrorists felt as they took turns stabbing, beating, and urinating upon Neal’s lifeless corpse back at the Cannidy farm? (Some in attendance for this wickedly macabre spectacle were toddlers not much older than Neal ‘ s three year-old child).
(Claude Neal’s charred remains)
I wonder what Florida Governor David Scholtz, the same one who refused the NAACP ‘s request to mobilize the National Guard to protect Neal, thought once word traveled back to Tallahassee that mob rule had won the day and that Whites were targeting other Blacks just to reinforce a lesson that their lives, essentially, did not matter?
I wonder what Marianna’s sheriff, Floyd Chambliss, thought the next morning when Neal’s sexually defiled, bullet riddled and badly charred body was strung up outside of the courthouse? Did he intend to bring any of those White killers to justice? Or was the sheriff’s silence equal complicity?
I wonder how Neal’s family has felt all of these years later, knowing that some of the younger Whites who participated in the macabre spectacle are still alive, well and living right there in Marianna? It is not as if any of these so-called “Florida Crackers” hid their participation, mind you. Or worse, for Neal’s descendants and the Black community writ large to know that in a world in which 80 and 90-year-old Nazi henchmen are still hunted down and prosecuted for their crimes against humanity, as they should be, that a United StatesJustice Department under the then First Black President that was led by the First and Second Black Attorneys General, opened an investigation into Neal’s murder in 2011, only to close out the same with an apology in 2014 because of their inability to gather evidence. Or, to know beyond all doubt that if the Obama administration could not obtain justice, that God knows that the Trump administration shan’t, either.
In summary, Claude Neal’s lynching reminds us all that while Black lives have always mattered in the eyes of God, the truth is that where White “Christian” terrorists, the ones who worship that blonde hair, blue eyed, Bee Gees looking version of Jesus, were concerned, which Black lives mattered and more crucially–how they ended– were subject to the whims of devilish men and women claiming to be of the Body of Christ.
RIP Claude Neal