The brutal murder of James Byrd by three white men in 1998 once held the attention of the East Texas town of Jasper and the nation. The murder, in which the white men chained Byrd, a Black man, to the back of a pickup truck and decapitated him, spurred the passage of federal and state hate crimes legislation named after Byrd. Yet, 25 years later, the attack is barely discussed, the Washington Post reports. Byrd is not mentioned in the local school district’s Texas history textbooks and he’s absent from the Jasper County Historical Museum. His family says their efforts to keep Byrd’s memory alive, including a push to open a museum in his honor, have largely been met with lackluster support from local officials. Few people showed up at a Juneteenth event they held this year to acknowledge the anniversary of Byrd’s murder.
“They just want to forget what happened in Jasper,” said LouVon Byrd Harris, Byrd’s younger sister. “You know who people really are once the cameras are gone. And once the cameras were gone, people started saying, ‘Poor Jasper, we’re victims, too.’” The men involved in Byrd’s death have been punished, but Jasper continues to be unfairly tainted by their actions, said David Shultz, one of the two White members of Jasper’s five-person City Council. “I don’t think what happened was the people in Jasper’s fault,” he said. “I think people have a tendency to judge Jasper on what happened in the past, not the city that Jasper is today.” The town’s collective amnesia reflects the worst fears of racial justice advocates about what may follow George Floyd’s 2020 murder by a Minneapolis police officer. Byrd’s death, like Floyd’s, was supposed to represent a turning point in history, but it has been relegated to a footnote even in his hometown. Support for the Black Lives Matter movement reached 67 percent in June 2020. It has fallen to 51 percent today.