Download: Without Sanctuary: Lynching Photography in América – PDF
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Many people today, despite the evidence, will not believe don’t want to believe that such atrocities happened in America not so very long ago. These photographs bear witness to . . . an American holocaust.» —Congressman John Lewis The Tuskegee Institute records the lynching of 3,436 blacks between 1882 and 1950. This is probably a small percentage of these murders, which were seldom reported, and led to the creation of the NAACP in 1909, an organization dedicated to passing federal anti-lynching laws. Through all this terror and carnage someone-many times a professional photographer-carried a camera and took pictures of the events.
These lynching photographs were often made into postcards and sold as souvenirs to the crowds in attendance. These images are some of photography’s most brutal, surviving to this day so that we may now look back on the terrorism unleashed on America’s African-American community and perhaps know our history and ourselves better. The almost one hundred images reproduced here are a testament to the camera’s ability to make us remember what we often choose to forget.
These images make the past present. They refute the notion that photographs of charged historical subjects lose their power, softening and becoming increasingly aesthetic with time. These images are not going softly into any artistic realm. Instead they send shock waves through the brain, implicating ever larger chunks of American society and in many ways reaching up to the present. They give one a deeper and far sadder understanding of what it has meant to be white and to be black in America. And what it still means. –New York Times, January 13, 2000
Why the photographs?
Look more closely at the photograph, if you can, and something more terrifying still emerges. See the crowd all decked out? The men and women in their Sunday best? The dark-haired lady in her printed dress? The man pointing up at the body in the tree?
These are the crowds that would routinely come to view and participate in the lynchings of the time, creating an atmosphere that was cheerful, celebratory, festive. Between 1882 and 1968 an estimated 4,742 African Americans in the United States were murdered by lynch mobs.
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