Closed-circuit camera footage shows Sandra Bland arriving at Waller County Jail in Hempstead, Texas, July 10. Three days later, she was found hanging in her cell. / Waller County Sheriff's Office
“Good morning, my beautiful kings and queens!” This is how Sandra Bland often began the more than two dozen videos she made before she was found hanged in a Texas jail on July 13. For months she posted the videos on Facebook and tagged them #SandySpeaks.
I “met” Bland the day her death went viral on social media. I was immediately drawn to her Facebook page because I knew something about Hempstead, the town where she was falsely arrested and then died. I’d been researching hundreds of pre–World War II interviews with elderly black Texans who had been slaves. Most of the interviews were conducted for the federal government and are accessible online through the Library of Congress.
The former slaves told of black men whipped and shot for refusing to work overtime in Jim Crow cotton fields and of a mother murdered after rejecting a white man’s demand that she send her seven-year-old son to work. Even religion was regulated...