Beauty and Justice

Herbert Lee

A few weeks ago, someone posted a link on Facebook about Herbert Lee, an African American civil rights activist in Mississippi who was shot and killed in 1961 by E.H. Hurst, a White man who never was charged with the crime, much less paid for it. (Here’s a link to information about Lee and the crime. )

Well, recently a marker was placed at the spot of Lee’s murder, to commemorate the crime. For me, this sort of event is filed underneath the “God Be A Witness” label. Surely, sending the person to prison who killed someone is important, but to me, most important is that this person who tried to help his little corner of the world–Herbert Lee–not be forgotten.

A friend of mine, the poet Jake Adam York has written two books of poetry commemorating slain Civil Rights heroes. He’s from Alabama, and is doing vital work on reconciliation and history memory.

I’ve been meaning to have a podcast with Jake, ever since April, and haven’t gotten around to it because I am so busy I think I am going crazy, but when Jake sent me his poem that he had written on Herbert Lee, I knew I had to share it with y’all and I asked his permission to post it. It is a beautiful poem, written by a do-right man who is trying to bring justice to the world through his art; I think that’s important, and I hope you do, too.

Jake’s poem is below.


At Liberty

……21 September 1961, Liberty, Mississippi


Everyone will say he drove to the gin
with a truck full of cotton, so he drives to the gin
and gets in line, and everyone will say
the congressman pulled in behind him, so he gets out
yelling Herbert Lee I’m not messing with you this time,
and his affidavit will say Lee had a tire iron
and there are no photographs so there is
a tire iron and since the congressman will say
Lee swung at him his hand will grasp the iron
under the tangle of his own dead weight
and the congressman will leave and will not
see him again so he just lies there bleeding
and no one will touch him so for a time
he is just a story or a huddle of starlings
or crows or a cloud of bottle flies that might
explode and disappear until the witnesses
can say he’s there and an undertaker can come
with a hearse from the next county over
and then he is dead and the congressman can
tell his story so Herbert Lee will rise
from his coffin and swing his iron
and the FBI can come to make him into evidence
but someone will have roped him into his grave
so there is no photograph and no one sees
the cotton boll wicking blood so there is no boll
only a clear, white negative in the dark
and a paper that slowly fills with flies.



4 thoughts on “Beauty and Justice

  1. Herbert Lee’s name has been coming up a lot lately, which it should. The poem is wonderful, but tears are flowing for these young men (and women) who gave there lives for this country and in many cases are not even remembered or known about. When I say tears are flowing, they are, I am a crier. As much as I want each and every one of these killers re-tried, I realize that there is never going to be justice, so it is so important to remember those who stood up for their rights and those who gave their lives.

  2. Herbert Lee is my great-grandfather. I am so compelled to this story and others from that time period. I am proud to have the courageous blood flowing through me that made my great-grandfather the stand up person he was. There are many unknown stories just like this one that needs to brought to the light. Thank you Phillis Remastered for putting this out. Thank you Jake Adam York for your beautiful words that tells the story of my great-grandfather Herbert Lee.

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