Where’s lynching?

August 31, 2009 at 7:12 am 3 comments

Some important references on American lynching history

  • U.S. Congress  Senate resolution of 2005Apologizing to the victims of lynching and the descendants of those victims for the failure of the Senate to enact anti-lynching legislation. S. Res. 39. 109th Cong., 1st sess. Congressional Record (February 7, 2005): S RES 39 IS.

Two hundred anti-lynching legislation bills were introduced in the House of Representatives. Three were approved and referred to the Senate.  However, the Senate which was controlled by southern segregationists rejected the bills. In 2005 the U.S. made a formal apology for systematically preventing the enactment of legislation to make lynching a federal crime.  Even though this admission of regret was groundbreaking, it did not result from a unanimous decision.  Only eighty of the one hundred senators sponsored the resolution.  Moreover, the resolution was passed by a voice vote so there is no written record to indicate who approved.
To review the resolution, see: http://landrieu.senate.gov/lynching/resolution.pdf, http://thomas.loc.gov/cgi-bin/query/D?c109:1:./temp/~c109TKyzYT.

News articles:
New York Times, “Senate Issues Apology over Failure on Lynching Law,” by Sheryl Gay Stolberg, June 14, 2005, http://www.nytimes.com/2005/06/14/politics/14lynch.html?_r=1&scp=1&sq=senate+issues+apology+over+failure&st=nyt.

Washington Post, “A Senate Apology for History on Lynching, “ by Avis Thomas-Lester, June 14, 2005.

PBS Online NewsHour, “Senate Lynching Apology,” June 13, 2005, http://www.pbs.org/newshour/bb/race_relations/jan-june05/anti-lynching_6-13.html.

Robert Siegel, “Anti-Lynching Law in U.S.” All Things Considered, National Public Radio, June 13, 2005, http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=4701576

BBC News, “Senate Apologises over Lynchings,” June 14, 2005, http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/americas/4090732.stm.

  • James Cameron’s autobiography, A Time of Terror: A Survivor’s Story, published by Black Classic Press, 1994.  In 1930 Cameron was nearly lynched by a Marion, Indiana mob.  His companions Thomas Shipp and Abram Smith were lynched and are the subjects of an infamous lynching photograph by Lawrence Beitler. A reproduction of the photo is in Without Sanctuary: Lynching Photography in America.
    Cameron later founded America’s Black Holocaust Museum in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. The museum is currently closed.
  • In the essay “How Come Nobody Told Me About the Lynching?” published in Picturing Us: African American Identity in Photography, edited by Deborah Willis, The New Press, 1994, author and filmmaker Jacquie Jones recounts how her sense of identity was profoundly changed by viewing a lynching photograph.
  • The 1960 American literary classic To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee is a fictional account but it offers some insight into the various social factors involved with lynching culture.
  • Langston Hughes‘ 1927 poem Song for a Dark Girl offers a poignant, personal description of lynching.
  • In the 1986 mixed media work Accused/Blowtorch/Padlock, artist Pat Ward Williams deconstructs a lynching photograph and challenges viewers to question the imagery and the psychology that allowed this violence to occur.
    Images of this work can be found online by searching Google.

Accused/Blowtorch/Padlock is mentioned in many books and articles on art and culture.  Here’s just a few:  Elizabeth Alexander includes an interesting interpretation of this work in her article, “Can You Be Black and Look at This? Reading the Rodney King Video(s),” published in Public Culture, 1994.  Sharon Patton also includes a brief discussion on this work in African-American Art, published by Oxford History of Art, 1998.
There’s also an informative video about this work on YouTube: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KcOJtgGFqQU.

  • Billy Holiday’s haunting 1939 recording, Strange Fruit strikes the heart.  The song lyrics were actually written by Abel Meeropol.  However, most people attribute the power of the song to Holiday’s performances.  Strange Fruit became a pivotal inspiration for later civil rights activists.
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Why Lynching? Website on Racial Reconciliation

3 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Robyn  |  September 1, 2009 at 2:00 am

    Thanks for all of this info! Great blog! I was just at the (closed for now) Black Holocaust Museum last week.

    Reply
  • 2. Robyn  |  September 1, 2009 at 2:03 am

    It seems like national apologies for slavery and lynchings have been the most contested in the U.S. – sort of like the debate over reparations …

    Reply
    • 3. artstuffmatters  |  April 17, 2010 at 1:20 am

      In 2005 Professor Jacqueline Goldsby, author of A Spectacular Secret: Lynching in American Life and Literature, wrote about the Senate apology. She makes some astute observations that highlight how much of this history remains unarticulated.

      “Senate finally owns up on lynchings, but it’s not enough.” Chicago Sun-Times, June 21, 2005

      Reply

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Artstuffmatters focuses on public culture in the arts- public art, photography, landscapes, museums, and more.

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