In May 1920, Henry Scott, a middle-aged Negro, was working as a Pullman porter in Florida when a mob seized and lynched him because a white woman said he insulted her.[1] Scott said that she had asked for his help arranging her seat on a train while he was busy arranging another woman’s seat. He asked her to wait. The white woman called the police and told them that Scott had insulted her. From there the story followed the usual lynching pattern: A deputy sheriff arrested Scott and then a white mob “overpowered” the deputy sheriff and took Scott from police custody. The mob then riddled Scott with “forty or fifty bullets.”[2] The jury returned the typical verdict: not guilty.[3]

Recently, another middle-aged Black man was working when he was seized and lynched. George Floyd was lynched by police officers after a store employee accused him of buying cigarettes with counterfeit money. He protested to the store employee that this was not true. But the teenage employee refused to believe him and proceeded to call the police. From there the story followed the all-too-common policing pattern: Police officers who swore an oath to serve and protect lynched a Black man while their colleagues stood by in silence.

Two stories, one hundred years apart. In this time, America has shot forward scientifically and technologically. America put a man on the moon, found vaccines and cures for deadly diseases, invented the computer, and revolutionized technology. But throughout this time, America has left Black Americans behind in the shadows. For Black Americans, too little has changed in the last sixty or so years. They are still dreaming that one day they will be judged by the content of their character and not the color of their skin, all while living through a constant nightmare. Henry Scott is George Floyd and George Floyd is Henry Scott. And that is why we can’t wait.

Black Americans have been and will continue to be severely disappointed with the slow pace of change. Before the Civil War, Richard Allen, Robert Purvis, Frederick Douglass, and many other Negro abolitionists and leaders were told to wait. After Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation in 1863, slaves still toiled the fields through at least 1865.[4] The government promised the Negro “forty acres and a mule” but instead gave the Negro “separate but equal.”[5] The Negro knew that in 1954 the Supreme Court called for the desegregation of schools “with all deliberate speed” but was met with all deliberate delay.[6] The Voting Rights Act of 1965 has all but failed to live up to its potential.[7] In 2020, police officers are still disproportionality killing Black people.[8] If we respond to this oppression with the same methods we have used in the past, we will sing the same chants, march through the same streets, and demand the same justice in 20, 40, 60 years. For over 100 years we have heard “change will come.” Words that consistently ring hallow. The People must do everything they can to prevent another innocent person from dying at the hands of the police or white supremacists.

The idea that the People must engage radical methods of change, change that accepts all action except violence as legitimate, has generated a great deal of apprehension to many Americans. But lest we forget our history, one should be reminded that America’s birth and continued existence is a never-ending dance with radicalness and extremism. Ideas that were once shunned as too radical are now lauded as examples for others. Was not Patrick Henry an extremist: “Give me liberty or give me death.”[9] Was not the Declaration of Independence radical when it stated that it is “the Right of the People to alter or abolish” the government if it became destructive to equality.[10] Our Founding Fathers listed in the Declaration the King of England’s crimes that spurred and legitimatized the American Revolution—including the Crown’s “protect[ion] of [his soldiers], by a mock Trial, from punishment for any Murders which they should commit on the Inhabitants of these States.”[11] Was it not Thomas Jefferson who wrote to William Smith and said, “what country can preserve its liberties, if its rulers are not warned from time to time that their people preserve the spirit of resistance?”[12]Was not Abraham Lincoln called radical when he said, “I believe this government cannot endure, permanently half slave and half free.”[13] And was not Dr. King considered one of the most radical and most hated men in America?[14]History has been kind to these men and so, too, will history be kind to us.

Black Americans and their allies can’t wait for perfect adherence from their movement on how one should engage in radical change. “No revolution is executed like a ballet[,]” said Dr. King, “[i]ts steps and gestures are not neatly designed and precisely performed.”[15] There will be violent elements in every revolution, but the majority of those revolting are doing so nonviolently. And more importantly, the oppressor is responsible for the violence of the oppressed. The oppressor is responsible for the American Revolution and the Civil Rights Movement. The Revolutions of 1848 were formed by ad hoc groups of the middle-class, workers, and commoners. They did not act with perfect discipline, but we nonetheless celebrate those radicals’ tenacity and vision.[16]

The necessity of Black Americans and their allies forming a movement for radical change is difficult for many to swallow. It is difficult because too many Americans do not understand the centrality of radical change to American history. They sit in the shade of trees they did not plant, warm themselves by fires they did not light, and drink from wells they did not dig.[17] They profit from persons they do not know, and they build upon foundations that they did not lay.[18] But Black Americans know this difficult truth: radical change is the only acceptable change. They are keenly aware that their struggle for equality and justice is a never-ending battle. Black Americans are resentful because after all these years they must constantly push for change or be pushed back into the shadows. Black Americans are the seeds that go unwatered and still rise. The soil not toiled but still fertile. You can’t ask us to be patient with change anymore or to play by your rules because Black Americans have been patient from John Castor to Henry Scott to George Floyd to ___.


[1] Ralph Ginzburg, 100 Years of Lynching 130-31 (1962).

[2] Id.

[3] Id.

[4] Shennette Garrett-Scott et al., “When Peace Come”: Teaching the Significance of Juneteenth, 76 Black History Bulletin 1, 19-23 (2013).

[5] Plessy v. Ferguson, 163 U.S. 537, 552 (1896).

[6] Martin Luther King, Jr., Why We Can’t Wait 3 (1963).

[7] See Shelby Cty., Ala. v. Holder, 570 U.S. 529 (2013).

[8] See Deidre McPhillips, Deaths From Police Harm Disproportionately Affect People of Color, U.S. News & World Report (June 3, 2020)

[9] William Wirt, Sketches of the Life and Character of Patrick Henry 123 (1817).

[10] The Declaration of Independence para. 2 (U.S. 1776).

[11] Id.

[12]  Letter from Thomas Jefferson to William Smith (Nov. 13, 1787), in Quotes by and about Thomas Jefferson (1998).

[13] Abraham Lincoln, A House Divided Speech at Springfield, Illinois (June 16, 1858).

[14] Tavis Smiley, The One Single Thing Donald Trump and Martin Luther King, Jr. Have in Common, Time (Dec. 1, 2017, 11:09 AM),

[15] King, supra note 6, at 140.

[16] See Melvin Kranzberg, 1848: A Turning Point? xii, xvii–xviii (1962).

[17] See Deuteronomy 6:10-12 (King James) (adapted by Rev. Dr. Peter S. Raible).

[18] Id.