Thank God for email because without it, I would have not heard about this story on Dr. James Cameron & no I am not talking about the movie maker. This story shows me that important news in our community does not get disseminated as it should via commercial news sources.
The fact that he is a lynching survivor is a haunting fact 1930 was not that long ago when you think about it.
James Cameron’s life could have ended on a tree limb on an August day in 1930. After an angry mob busted into the Marion, Ind., jail and dragged out Cameron and two acquaintances, he was beaten and watched the other two black youths hanged.
As a rope was thrown over his head, he prayed for God to save his life.
That Cameron lived another 76 years to tell his story and the story of all blacks lynched in America simply because of the color of their skin is a testament to a man who knew the power of forgiveness.
Cameron, the founder of America’s Black Holocaust Museum in Milwaukee, died Sunday in Milwaukee after a long illness. He was 92.
As the only known survivor of a lynching, Cameron was virtually a one-man crusade who led, cajoled and sometimes gently forced America into admitting and apologizing for its complacency in a shameful history of racial hate crimes. Last year, the U.S. Senate formally apologized to Cameron and others for its failure to outlaw lynching.
Although Cameron had to mortgage his house to pay for the printing of his book, “A Time of Terror,” in 1982 after numerous rejections from publishers, he and his story eventually reached an international audience that included Oprah Winfrey, Coretta Scott King and President Clinton.
Wisconsin Public Television produced a documentary called “A Lynching in Marion.” Cameron was taped by the British Broadcasting Corp. and Dutch and German television, interviewed on CBS-TV and written about in Newsweek. He was invited to lecture at colleges across the nation. Marion, where he almost died, presented him with a key to the city.
At the time of his death, he was negotiating a movie deal on the story of his life and had signed the contract the day before he died, said his son Virgil Cameron.
He ‘never became bitter’
The message in Cameron’s autobiography was not hate, but forgiveness.
“He survived a lynching and never became bitter,” said civil rights pioneer Vel R. Phillips, Wisconsin’s first African-American judge and former Wisconsin secretary of state. “He epitomized what it takes to realize what faith is.”
Mayor Tom Barrett described Cameron as a “truly remarkable man.”
“He took his personal experience with the near-lynching – a negative and horrible experience – and turned it into something that enabled Milwaukee and visitors to Milwaukee to see the history of what others went through,” Barrett said.
Milwaukee has the only museum of its kind in the country that commemorates and memorializes victims of lynching. America’s Black Holocaust Museum, however, doesn’t dwell on hate, but on hope and a vigilant awareness against hate crimes, said Phillips, a museum board member who had known Cameron for years.
Cameron’s museum, begun in 1988 on a financial shoestring, showcases hundreds of photos, posters and essays on the history of racial attacks, lynchings, torture and other evils done to African-Americans in the United States.
One photograph at the museum is of the mob in Marion standing under Cameron’s two black friends, hanging from a tree. The picture has appeared in history books, newspapers and Life and Ebony magazines, and became one of the most infamous American lynching scenes. Iranians used it as example of hatred in America, and rap group Public Enemy put it on an album cover.
On why he founded the museum, after getting inspiration while visiting Yad Vashem, Israel’s Holocaust museum, Cameron said, “I want to prick the conscience of America, to raise the moral sensitivity of the American people.”
When he proposed the museum in 1984, he said: “We must erect, build with our own hands and resources, a museum, a memorial so that the world can never forget the wrongs done to us in America. The emphasis must be on lynching because that is the method used mostly on us to hold back the progress of America.”
Museum has always struggled
The museum, which found a permanent home at 2233 N. 4th St. in 1993, never attracted the number of visitors Cameron had hoped for, and he sometimes lamented that blacks gave less support than whites. In the first four months after it opened in 1988, only about 100 adults and children paid the admission price, then $1.50 and 75 cents.
Bygbaby: The above is a damn shame!
Over the years, America’s Black Holocaust Museum has hosted a number of high-profile exhibits, including “A Slave Ship Speaks: The Wreck of the Henrietta Marie,” which drew 75,000 visitors in 1999. But it also has suffered from lagging attendance and financial woes. Last fall, the museum struggled to make full mortgage payments on its building.
Despite the museum’s difficulty in raising funds, attracting a steady stream of visitors and hiring a permanent executive director, Cameron never wavered in his efforts to keep the facility afloat, a trait that impressed Gov. Jim Doyle.
“There are two things that stand out about his character: how warm and kind of a person he was and how committed he was to the Black Holocaust Museum,” Doyle said. “Almost every time I would meet him, he would talk to me about a new exhibit or something that was happening there.
“He was devoted to something that was important not just to Milwaukee and the state, but to the whole country,” the governor added.
Bygbaby: The bottom line here is that we need to support “our” establishments, because if we don’t & they parrish, then what?
Narrowly escaped lynching
Born in La Crosse in 1914, Cameron left there at age 4 and lived in Birmingham, Ala., before moving to Kokomo, Ind., at age 12. He moved again, to Marion, at 14.
Two years later, on Aug. 7, 1930, he and two acquaintances were arrested and accused of killing a white man during a robbery and raping the man’s girlfriend.
In his autobiography, Cameron wrote about the inhuman sounds of an angry mob – believed to be 10,000 strong, including local members of the Ku Klux Klan – and the steady thud of battering rams against metal locks. The mob broke into the county jail and dragged the three black youths into the street.
After the murders of his two companions, Cameron prayed in terror. For the rest of his life, he believed what happened next was a miracle.
“Take this boy back,” he heard a voice say. “He had nothing to do with any raping or shooting of anybody.”
The crowd stopped and dispersed.
Years later, Cameron went back to Marion and interviewed witnesses. No one else had heard the voice.
“God saved my life that night,” he said. “I don’t have any doubt about it.”
Cameron had left the scene before the crime occurred. The woman later testified that she had never been raped. Nevertheless, Cameron was convicted of being an accessory to voluntary manslaughter and served four years in prison. Years later, in 1993, he was pardoned by the governor of Indiana.
Virgil Cameron said his father carried the horrible memory of the near-lynching throughout his life but became deeply spiritual as a result of it.
Hopefully, said the younger Cameron, “my father will be remembered for shaking people out of their doldrums. He liked to rattle their cages and always said if you weren’t aware of your history, it would be repeated.”
Cameron organized chapters of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People in three cities in Indiana and was active in Milwaukee in open housing marches and in demonstrations against police brutality.
Virgil Cameron remembered visiting the U.S. Capitol for the apology from the Senate and realizing his father was a celebrity.
“As we were traveling down the corridor, all the senators recognized him, they came up and spoke to him,” the son said. “It dawned on me then that he had made his point.”
Cameron is survived by his wife, Virginia; another son, Walter, of West Palm Beach, Fla.; and a daughter, Delores Cameron of Chicago. He was preceded in death by two other sons, David and James.
Funeral arrangements are pending at Northwest Funeral Chapel.