Haunted by Mary Turner

Remembering Mary Turner-painting by Je' Czaja
Remembering Mary Turner-painting by Je’ Czaja

Maybe its because the bridge where they murdered Mary Turner is close to where I live. Maybe its because of the palpable racism that still simmers here in Deepswamp, Georgia. Maybe its because my biracial daughter was the same age as Mary Turner when she was so brutally slain.

In 1918 right here in Brooks County, the locals went on a rampage, killing thirteen black people before they were done. They killed Mary Turner because she said her murdered husband was innocent. Mary Turner was eight months pregnant. They hung her from the nearby bridge, doused her with gasoline and set her on fire. And it was actually even worse than that; these are just the bare facts.

I am haunted by Mary Turner. You know how you hear about something so atrocious, you feel like you have to do something? But what can I do?

I painted Mary Turner as I saw her in my mind-heavily pregnant and having just heard someone coming. As I painted it, I fought off feelings of hatred for those men who murdered a young pregnant woman because of fear. Yes, fear. Fear is behind this “disciplining” of those who take a stand against power.

That’s why I say fear-mongers are not just annoying; they are very, very dangerous. The Rwanda genocide, resulting in the deaths of 800,000 people, was prompted by fear-mongering on the radio. What can we do? Turn off the fear-mongers and denounce them. As Shakespeare said, “In time we often hate that which we fear.”

What can we do? At the very least WE can refuse to fear. Just refuse!

“Fear not.”-Jesus

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