The right has been sharply critical of civil rights leaders (along with President Obama and attorney general Eric Holder) for their response to the George Zimmerman trial and verdict — with Fox News commentators condemning MSNBC host Rev. Al Sharpton and other leaders as “hustlers” and “racist,” for leading civil demonstrations calling for a Zimmerman trial, and decrying the verdict. One Fox commentator even compared Sharpton to former Klan leader David Duke. But a National Review cartoon has taken attacks on Sharpton to another level.
On Saturday, the conservative publication’s “Cartoon of the Day” by Investor’s Business Daily’s Michael Ramirez depicted Sharpton as a lynching tree, with four lynched bodies labeled “truth” hanging from its extended limb. Beneath the figures: captions reading: “Tawana Brawley hoax, Crown Heights, Freddie’s Fashion Mart” and “Zimmerman Trial.” The cartoon also appeared on Ramirez’s Investor’s Business Daily page.
Lynching has an awful history in the United States, with the vast majority of victims being African-American. Lynching reached its peak in the U.S. in the 1890s, according to Tuskegee Institute archives, but continued into the early 20th century, in the period after World War I, when black soldiers returned from Europe, particularly to the South, and to white communities unprepared to accept more self-possessed, confident black men.
“It’s horrifying to think that the terror lynching would be so flippantly employed to try and shame and silence Rev. Sharpton,” said Blair L.M. Kelley, an historian and associate professor at North Carolina State University. “How odd that an outspoken black advocate for justice would symbolize the lynching tree.”
“At the turn of the 20th century thousands of black men, women, and children were lynched specifically for speaking on their own behalf, and millions more lived in fear of racial terror,” Kelley added. “Rev. Sharpton, by exercising his own right to free speech, is no threat to anyone in a free and democratic society. It’s shameful to think that the real murders of thousands of American citizens should be trivialized for a political talking point.”
Sharpton, through his National Action Network, organized more than 100 marches in cities across the U.S. on Saturday, calling for “Justice for Trayvon” Martin in the wake of the not guilty verdict a jury handed to George Zimmerman, who shot the teen to death in February 2012, and claimed self-defense.
“How horribly ironic that this cartoonist and by association, the National Review would use the awful iconography of racial violence in order to mount an ad hominem attack against Reverend Sharpton,” said LeHigh University professor of African-American studies and MSNBC contributor James Braxton Peterson. “After hours organizing and leading a peaceful vigil across over 100 cities in honor of the modern-day lynching of Trayvon Martin, Sharpton spent the night in one of Harlem’s most dilapidated housing projects in order to spotlight the inhumane conditions there. I wonder how the editors of the National Review spent their weekend?”
The National Review, Ramirez and Investor’s Business Daily did not return calls and emails requesting comment.
Sharpton also declined to comment.