Today marks the dragging death anniversary of James Byrd Junior of Jasper. Serious attention was placed on race relations in East Texas the moment the hate crime got the media's attention. He was a 49 year old black man walking home from an anniversary dinner. He was picked up by three white men and driven to an isolated rural road. There he was beaten, spray painted, chained by his ankles and dragged for three miles.
In the last decade, the Byrd family has made it their mission to promote racial healing. Today a memorial was held in the memory of James Byrd Junior in the park that bears his name. The family is reflecting on the past, but counting on the future.
" It's going to be a beautiful day. A beautiful day," said Byrd's sister Louvan Byrd Harris as she hung colorful balloons from the sign leading into the park. She is determined to make it a joyous day. " We must take something that's such a tragic happening and hopefully help someone else so no one will have to deal with the horror that we have to go through everyday ," said Harris.
Another sister, Clara Byrd Taylor hastily prepares for arriving guests. She's used to organizing. The older sister to James is chair of the Byrd Foundation For Racial Healing. (www.thebyrdfoundation.org ) It promotes diversity and victim support. If writing this story this would be Taylor's lead. With a moment's thought she said, " The community of Jasper came together after the death of James Byrd junior. This gives them an opportunity to once again come together as one to unite in the fight against racism."
And that happened. Young and old and black and white are working together for racial healing. Nothing gets started until Stella Byrd, James' mother arrives. She moves slowly ten years after her son's brutal death, but she remains the rock of the Byrd family. Her genuine smile comforts those around her. She said, " Yes, I always feel love. "
Yet the ugly of ten years ago can't be ignored. A clergy recalls how the Byrd stood up to racial hatred. He recalled, " When the Black Panthers came in, the KKK came in, Mrs Byrd told the Black Panthers to go home. "
District Judge John Stevens came bearing gifts. He presented a photograph of the prosecution team he led in three separate trials. Three white men were convicted of the gruesome dragging death. John William King and Lawrence Russell Brewer are on Texas death row. Shawn Allen Berry is serving a life prison sentence. Jasper became the center of media attention for the first and last trial. Bryan hosted the second trial.
Stevens can only wish that the courtroom victories could have ended hate crimes for ever. Stevens shared, " Ten years since James Byrd Junior's death there have been 80,000 reported bias motivated incidences and that equals about one an hour. "
The Byrd family is committed to leading the mindless killing behind and to set their eyes on the future. Brother Thurman Byrd said as preparing barbeque, " A lot of people came out and helped today, so we can't help but go forward. "