The notice in the newspaper read as if Ed Roach died yesterday and now
the family is asking everyone to celebrate the life of their 24-year-old son.
Lynched in the county in 1920, Ed was beaten, shot five times, and strangled
for attacking a white woman on the busy dirt road to Durham.
Though Ed had an alibi, working with his family in the tobacco since sunrise,
a mob judged otherwise and hung him from an old oak tree at the AME church.
In the sad, red-dawn hours Ed’s friends cut him down and buried him, unmarked,
in the fields. They torched the ancient oak, an black epitaph for folks heading to town.
Now, a century later, the family’s memorial is like a shock from a live wire—
a current singeing us all, all of us in the county, exposing the lingering rot within.
Oh, plow the red clay, yellowed leaf. Dig beneath the loblolly and sweet gum:
Ed Roach, rise with your hanging rope. Your horror hidden in the soil is over.
An earlier version of this poem first appeared in the poetry magazine Better than Starbucks in its May 2019 issue (Vol IV, No. 3).