Many of us may have already read or heard of the Willie Lynch speech, it is still celebrated and typified as the quintessential message on the control and balkanization of the African slave and slave descendants. Proclaiming in his speech, given on the James River in 1712, that if these instructions are followed correctly “it will control the slaves for at least 300 years.”

The letter was referenced by Louis Farrakhan the leader of the nation of Islam at the million man March in 1995 bringing this letter, which was in circulation from at least the 1970’s, into a new prominence.

The influence of the letter spread as it was made widely available on the internet during the 1990’s. Such messages on the segregation and oppression of black people tend to make their rounds particularly during February denoted as black history month. These messages play on the sentiment, heart and emotion of a people but it would seem that appeals to unadulterated thought, intellectual honesty, in particular, receive less prominence. Therefore, it is fitting on this last day of Black history month to examine the Willie Lynch letter and the truth of its origins. Below is an excerpt from the speech:

“The Black Slave, after receiving this indoctrination, shall carry on and will become self refueling and self generating for hundreds of years, maybe thousands.

Don’t forget, you must pitch the old Black vs. the young Black male, and the young Black male against the old Black male. You must use the dark skinned slaves vs the light skinned slaves, and the light skinned slaves vs. the dark skinned slaves. You must use the female vs. the male, and the male vs. the female. You must also have your servants and overseers distrust all Blacks, but it is necessary that your slaves trust and depend on us. They must love, respect, and trust only us.” Willie Lynch Speech (see below for the full speech)

The words are both poignant and ring true yet Willie Lynch’s address has been determined by many historical examiners (both black and white) to be essentially a fraud, with clear indications of anachronism, possible word play, illogical omissions and suspect additions that are at best highly questionable. One late Dr. William Piersen wrote as early as 1995 in an archived email correspondence with the Ann Taylor, the librarian at University of Missouri Jefferson Library, that the prose (referring to the common style and structure of writing) does not resemble 18th century writing. To fully understand this consider the way you can tell the vast difference between older English, such as that found in Shakespeare, and modern internet English.

Even more, each time period, geographical region, cultural and dialect had its own form of communication that can help to identify the origin of a piece of writing. Writing from the 15th century would differ from that of the 16th and 17th century.  Perhaps more telling is that there are no other historical records that indicate this William Lynch existed in that period as suggested by Thomas M. Cooley in a related email correspondence with the Jefferson Library. Being that he was invited from the “West Indies”, it is suspect enough that his specific colony was not identified, historical records should exist of him to be notable enough to be invited to address this gathering. William Jelani Cobb prominent African-American educator and writer who declared the letter a fake had this to say:

The Willie Lynch speech would seem to give a quick-and-easy explanation of the roots of our much-lamented “black disunity.” You could make similar arguments about the lingering effects of a real historical document like the 1845 tract, “Religious Instruction of Negroes” – written by a proslavery Presbyterian minister – or the British practice of mixing different African ethnicities on slave ships in order to make communication – and therefore rebellion – more difficult. But this too is questionable – it presumes that whites, or any other diverse group, do not face divisive gender issues, generation gaps and class distinctions…Unity is not the same as unanimity and in the end, black people are no more disunited than any other group of people – and a lot more united than we give ourselves credit for. – response taken from Ferris University question of the Month response series May 2004.

In critiquing the failings of the Willie Lynch letter and the tactic the writer employed to get across his or her message, we must not forget the underlying truth. Fabrication it may be, but fabrication based on a true history of hateful, oppressive and absurdly unjust behaviour against a group of people due primarily to selfishness and greed content to find its justification in skin colour.

Farrakhan stated during his address at the million man march “We as a people now have been fractured, divided and destroyed, filled with fear, distrust and envy. Therefore, because of fear, envy and distrust of one another, many of us as leaders, teachers, educators, pastors and persons are still under the control mechanism of our former slave masters and their children.”

It seems then that the tools of the enemy are fear, envy and distrust and in seeking to rid ourselves of these failings we should not employ the same tactics to sow the very things we claim we are against. In so doing, we are pretending these bonds were all externally imposed. We are effectively turning the key to lock the bonds that hold us while simultaneously throwing away that key: we have become our own worst enemy.

We must recognize it is not merely enough to come close to the truth in an attempt to create awareness and to educate people, especially when attempting to engender consciousness among historically oppressed people. One should not attempt to alleviate oppression caused by lies and discriminatory tactics with new lies meant to galvanize or emotionally unburden a people, essentially to unite with hate in hopes of sparking change. When seeking to right the wrongs of society, fabricating a seemingly true message is merely an emotionally appealing lie that is not the way forward. Deception, especially self-deception, are shackles that bind more deeply than any external oppressive measures. To borrow from the biblical quotation from the book of John chapter 8 verse 32 “the truth” – and I would add only – “the truth shall set you free”.

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