Normally we mark happy anniversaries. But there are disturbing times in history for which we mark certain pivotal moments by revisiting them during landmark anniversaries. Pearl Harbor, the end of World War II, holocaust events, riots, and the deaths of public officials and lesser known extraordinary people such as those of 9/11. We mark them because those events affect the course of history, change lives and teach lessons.
So when people ask me why I mark October 18th of 2013 as the 80th anniversary of the 1933 lynching of George Armwood, I remind them that there are painful moments in history that must be marked in order to remind people of what is right and wrong, and that this too was a pivotal moment in certain lives. So while it might be more pleasant to mark next February 28th as what would have been Armwood’s 102nd birthday, unfortunately for his descendants and others affected by his death, October 18th is the day that is most remembered.
Among those affected by Armwood’s death was Clarence Mitchell, Jr. Looking up dates and birthdates, I was jolted by a coincidence that the early civil rights activist and lobbyist was born within weeks of George Armwood. Mitchell was the same age of the man whose charred body he witnessed. He spent the day following Armwood’s death interviewing people as a young reporter for the Baltimore Afro-American. I wonder if Mitchell reflected on the age he shared with Armwood. Mitchell would testify before Congress about the lynching, an early sign of his future in politics and activism. Family members have said that this history marked a turning point for Mitchell, becoming an activist for those who could not speak for themselves.
Had the lynching and the circumstances never happened, had the two men met two years before that horrific time, they would have shared a 20th birthday together. Not likely, as their worlds were far apart. But during this week 80 years ago, their lives collided and were forever affected.