Equal Justice Initiative report on lynching (see details below)
Uprooted, a short film created by the Equal Justice Initiative, [6:44]
You’ve seen some horrific images today. It’s difficult to imagine a society where such images were commonplace and were used as postcard images to be sent to friends.
If you are interested in looking at the archive of lynching photographs, assembled as part of the exhibition (and accompanying book) Without Sanctuary: Photographs and Postcards of Lynching in America that toured American museums in 2000, you may spend some time visiting this site: http://withoutsanctuary.org/A warning: these photographs, like the ones we saw in class, are highly disturbing. And at the end of the day, what I hope you will focus on is not the tortured bodies of the victims but on the facial and body language that suggest the attitudes and behaviors of the bystanders/perpetrators.
You also saw the faces of the onlookers, the writings of the witnesses sending “mementos” to their friends and families. Try to imagine what was inside the heads of these people. Note: there were men, women, and children present at many of these lynchings.
There were folks who objected to lynchings and who tried to do something about it. Click here for an example of Ida B. Wells-Barnett’s crusading journalism and her steadfast advocacy that something had to be done to stop these lynchings. That same document contains Eleanor Roosevelt’s response and her description of FDR’s suggestion as to what to do about it. You heard Billie Holiday’s vocalizing the lyrics of Abel Meeropol’s song, Strange Fruit.
There were efforts to outlaw lynchings. Believe it or not, in the US Congress, Senators Kamala Harris (then D-California), Cory Booker (D-New Jersey), and Tim Scott (R-South Carolina) introduced the Justice for Victims of Lynching Act in June 2018. (Yes, you read that date correctly.) That legislation passed the Senate in December 2018 but the bill died because it was not passed by the House before its session ended in January 2019. To revive the bill in the next Congress, Representative Bobby Rush (D-Illinois) introduced the Emmett Till Antilynching Act (HR 35) on January 3, 2019. The House of Representatives passed the bill on February 26, 2020. (Yes, you read that date correctly too.)
However, the law has not passed the Senate and therefore has not been enacted, thanks to Senator Rand Paul (R-Kentucky), who blocked the bill contending that someone could receive a 10-year sentence for … “minor bruising.” So Congress failed to pass an anti-lynching act.
The person who has done more than anyone else in this nation to shine a spotlight on the need to confront and reckon with this horrific history is attorney Bryan Stevenson, whose book you might have read this summer (Just Mercy) or who was the focus of a recent movie based on the book (same title, Just Mercy). His Equal Justice Initiative (EJI) built a memorial—called the National Memorial to Peace and Justice—in Montgomery, Alabama that has preserved the stories and memorialized the victims of lynchings nationwide. His organization issued a report on lynching that I’d like you to read for this assignment. It’s long, so I’m asking you to take on portions of it, rather than the entire text.
The report is linked here.
- Everyone should read the introduction and its key findings.
- Then each of you should do the following:
Read 1 of the 3 sections from this list (each section is marked by a red header):
- Option 1: Read section II “Back to Brutality: Restoring Racial Hierarchy through Terror and Violence”
- Option 2: Read section III: Lynching in America: From ‘Popular Justice’ to Racial Terror”
- Option 3: Read section IV: Enabling an Era of Lynching: Retreat, Resistance, and Refuge
AND Read 1 of the 2 from this list (again each section is marked by a red header):
- Option 1: Read section V: Confronting Lynching
- Option 2: Read section VI: Trauma and Legacy of Lynching
And after you’ve done that, you will have a deeper understanding of this terrible history. And now it’s your turn. You are to post on the following:
- What was the message behind these lynchings? What do they tell you about white supremacy, the creation of a climate of fear, the issue of whether everyone in this country could count on and/or be protected by the judicial system and law enforcement?
- What, constructively, could have been done to address and to stop the act of lynching in the late nineteenth and twentieth centuries? Remember that lynching did not end until the 1960s. One could argue that it has continued well into the 1990s in the cases of James Byrd in Jasper, Texas (who was attached by a chain to the back of a pickup truck and dragged for miles until his body disintegrated and he died—see https://www.nytimes.com/1998/06/10/us/black-man-fatally-dragged-in-a-possible-racial-killing.html), and Matthew Shepard (hog-tied to a fence in sub-zero temperatures) in Laramie, Wyoming (you may remember our school’s production of The Laramie Project and for more info, https://www.nytimes.com/1998/10/13/us/gay-man-dies-from-attack-fanning-outrage-and-debate.html) .
- Imagine if you were alive and living in communities where lynchings took place. What would you have done, assuming your goal was to end lynching? What would you have done about it back at the time? What would you do about it now?