Tennessee and the Legacy of Lynching

Thoughts in advance of Juneteenth

Pax Ahimsa Gethen


Album cover for the maxi-single CD release of “Tennessee” by Arrested Development. Photo by Jeffrey Scales.

Today, I had a sudden desire to listen to the song “Tennessee” by Arrested Development. Random urges to hear specific songs are not at all unusual for me, and nowadays are quickly and easily quenched by pulling them up on YouTube.

But this particular urge did not feel random. And like the song’s lead singer, Speech, “I am still thirsty.”

I’ve listened to and enjoyed this song a number of times before, from the time it was first released in 1992. But today I was moved to watch the video with the subtitles on, to clarify some of the lyrics I wasn’t sure of. I was bopping along to the beat, but froze in place after these words hit my screen, as it was the first time they truly hit me:

Walk the roads my forefathers walked
Climbed the trees my forefathers hung from

To emphasize this point, near the end of the video a sketch being worked on is revealed to portray a lynching. An iconic photo of an actual lynching — of Thomas Shipp and Abram…