In the movie, The Great Debaters, Melvin B. Tolson (played by Denzel Washington) retells the story of Willie Lynch in hopes of motivating his newly aspiring members of an all Black Wiley College debate team. Tolson points out that, in those days, slave owners in need of help controlling their slaves in Virginia, sent word to Willie Lynch apparently known for his tactics, which, for years, had kept his own slaves in line in the West Indies.
Mr. Lynch was rumored to have gladly come to Virginia and, while there, gave a speech on how to control the black slaves. In the movie, Tolson narrows down this speech to the two key principles: (1) keep the slave’s body strong, and (2) their minds psychologically dependent on the slave master. As Tolson translated to his students, “keep the body and take the mind.”
However, ironically the infamous tales of the notorious Willie Lynch are nothing more than a myth. There is no record of anyone named Willie Lynch as depicted in the Great Debaters or characterized in the movie’s speech/letter. Prof. Manu Ampim, a historian and primary researcher specializing in African & African American history and culture, has exposed the “so-called” letter or speech of Willie Lynch to be a fraud (click here and here).
One of the most damaging pieces of evidence Professor Ampim brings against the authenticity of the speech is that no historians or contemporaries of that time mention the speech or tactics mentioned in the speech. He says,
‘The “Willie Lynch Speech” is not mentioned by any 18th or 19th-century slave masters or anti-slavery activists. There is a large body of written materials from the slavery era, yet there is not one reference to a William Lynch speech given in 1712. This is very curious because both free and enslaved African Americans wrote and spoke about the tactics and practices of white slave masters. Frederick Douglass, Nat Turner, Olaudah Equiano, David Walker, Maria Stewart, Martin Delaney, Henry Highland Garnet, Richard Allen, Absolom Jones, Frances Harper, William Wells Brown, and Robert Purvis were African Americans who initiated various efforts to rise up against the slave system, yet none cited the alleged Lynch speech. Also, there is not a single reference to the Lynch speech by any white abolitionists, including John Brown, William Lloyd Garrison, and Wendell Phillips. Similarly, there has been no evidence found of slave masters or pro-slavery advocates referring to (not to mention utilizing) the specific divide and rule information given in the Lynch speech.
Likewise, none of the most credible historians on the enslavement of African Americans have ever mentioned the Lynch speech in any of their writings. A reference to the Lynch speech and its alleged “divide and rule” tactics are completely missing from the works of Benjamin Quarles, John Hope Franklin, John Henrik Clarke, William E.B. Du Bois, Herbert Aptheker, Kenneth Stampp, John Blassingame, Rosalyn Terborg-Penn, Darlene Clark-Hine, and Lerone Bennett. These authors have studied the details and dynamics of Black social life and relations during slavery, as well as the “machinery of control” by the slave masters, yet none made a single reference to a Lynch speech.’
Professor Ampim also goes on to highlight anachronistic language contained in the speech. In other words, he exposes 20th-century terminology in what is supposed to be an 18th-century document. He concludes that the speech was written in the late 20th century but became popular after being read during the Million Man March, in 1995.
I would encourage everyone to read the findings of Prof. Ampim and the responses to his research. It is amazing how many people, when confronted with the evidence, still cling even harder to the myth because it supports their worldview.
However, although the person of Willie Lynch and the speech itself were fabricated, this method of controlling people is certainly not. There is an ongoing attempt to keep Black folks psychologically weak and dependent on the government by, in many instances, Black leaders who benefit from their dependency on government. The fabricated letter is an intentional attempt to manipulate the Black community into an “emotional” state that suspends critical thinking. Once people have suspended use of their “critical” mind, they are subject to all types of manipulation.
A modern-day case, in point, is the fervor being incited over States requiring identification in order to vote. Many in the Black community have made this a civil rights issue, which it is not. Voter identification helps to cut down on voter fraud, which everyone should be in favor of. Unfortunately, some “Black leaders” such as Al Sharpton, the CBC, those in the Obama administration, and Roland Martin, to name a few, have claimed that this is an attempt to disenfranchise African Americans. Yet they know full well that across the country anyone over the age of 20 is required to carry some form of identification. It is not racist or an infringement upon a person’s right to vote to also be required to have proper identification. Here, in Illinois, you cannot vote early unless you bring a photo ID. The truth of the matter is, to transact business in America; you must have some form of legitimate identification.
The real strategy behind the voter identification debate is to stir up Black people so that they come out in significant numbers to vote in 2012. Obama’s track record of accomplishment is dismal, particularly among African Americans. We have the highest unemployment and highest rate of foreclosures under our first Black President. There is no real reason for African Americans to support Obama for a second term. That is unless you can insight the emotion of fear—“that Republicans are trying to keep you from voting”—Blacks probably will not turn out in big numbers at the polls. Hence, the attempt to manipulate the masses with a Willie Lynch type misinformation campaign.
We have seen this done with fabrications about the Dixiecrats, the Southern strategy, and even the US Constitution. This is why it has become Freedom’s Journal Magazine’s goal to encourage its readers, as Tolson challenged and encouraged his up and coming debate team, to “find, take back and keep your righteous minds.” There is too much at stake to allow the manipulative intentions of those who fabricate the Willie lynch speech to continue to hijack the minds of unsuspecting people, both Black and White. Jesus, while addressing a crowd asserts that those who follow Him will never walk in darkness, and then goes on to explain that for those who really knew Him that the “truth would set them free” (John 8:32). My prayer is that we’d all be truth seekers rejecting the lies perpetuated to enslave our minds—“keep the body and take [back] the mind.”