JR: Face 2 Face
Visit the website of artist JR and watch the two videos posted on the site to learn about his Face 2 Face project.
Write a 1-2 paragraph reflection of what you learned about the artist and his project, and address the following:
- What was the project’s goal?
- How did the artist use photography for cultural diplomacy?
- How are the subjects depicted in the photographs?
- Where was the project executed?
- What is the significance of how the artist chose to hang the images? How does this contribute to achieving the project’s goal?
- What challenges did the artist face?
- What impact can this project have on local, national and international levels?
Chapter Theme to Current World News Event
Pick a theme discussed within Chapters 7-10 of the digital textbook and connect it to a current world news event (within past 12 months). You can choose to do this as either a written reflection or as a video, following the guidelines below. Respond to at least 2 other student reflections by the assignment deadline.
Written: Compose a thoughtful written reflection (minimum 150 words total) connecting a chapter theme to a current world news event (within past 12 months). Format the name of the current world news event in bold within the text body (as opposed to as a section header) and use specific details from it to connect back to the chosen chapter theme. Include the total word count on top of your submission. (In Microsoft Word go to Tools>Word Count)
Chapter 10: Civil Rights
Scope and Motivations of Lynchings of African Americans
Racial tensions intensified throughout the United States in the late 19th century, but were most palpable in the south. For African Americans living in the South, the brutalities and indignities of slave life were gone but the harshness of white race prejudice persisted. White Southerners resorted to lynching to control the newly freed slaves and resolve some of the anger they had toward free blacks. The verb â€œto lynchâ€ means to put to death, usually by hanging, and was executed by mob action, or a so-called lynch mob. Starting in the 1880s and lasting until the late 1960s, lynching was a lethal punishment without legal sanction undertaken by groups of white Americans, to kill a person or a group of people (primarily African Americans) accused of some wrongdoing. Such wrongdoings ranged from serious crimes such as alleged theft, rape or murder to the violation by a black man of a local white custom or sensibility. In the South, of course, that social wrongdoing could be something as simple as a black man looking at a white woman, an action thought to be against the law and a serious violation of white supremacist convention in the region. The actual guilt or innocence of the victim(s) was of no concern to the lynch mob, which consisted of dozens to hundreds of white people who took the law into their own hands. The lynch mob served as the prosecutor, judge, jury, and executioner of the victims, exacting a violent and cruel form of vigilante justice.
Although lynchings declined somewhat in the twentieth century, there were still years in the early twentieth century when racial troubles in America, such as the postwar year of 1919, witnessed spikes in the number of lynchings committed against African Americans in the United States. While the color-coded map below illustrates lynching predominated in the South, lynchings did occur all over the country including in California and the Midwest. Between 1882 and 1968, there were 4,743 people killed from lynchings and 3,446 (or 73 percent) of them were black men and women, illustrating that overwhelmingly the largest percentage of lynching victims were African Americans.
These, of course, were recorded lynchings; others were never reported beyond the town or city where the lynching occurred. From the 1890s through the 1930s, lynchings occurred regularly in southern and border states, despite the fact these state had laws prohibiting lynching and mob violence. Law enforcement officials simply refused to apprehend and prosecute lynchers, even when their identities were known, because race and retaining white supremacy overrode mob violence as the controlling issues for these local southern and border officials. The abandonment by the federal government of its oversight of constitutional protections in the late 1870s and the development of Jim Crow laws of the 1890s meant that white mobs of violence against southern blacks could commit lynchings with impunity. With Jim Crow laws prohibiting blacks from voting, public office, and jury service in most Southern and many border states, local officials disregarded their responsibility to protect African American lives from extrajudicial lynch mob violence.
Lynchings as Public Spectacles
Lynching played an important role in this country and was engrained in the social and cultural fabric, prompting historian Frank Shay to proclaim in 1969 that lynching was â€œas American as apple pie.â€ By the 1890s, lynchings had become public spectacles executed in front of crowds as large as 15,000 who gathered to watch. Newspapers carried advertisements promoting advance notice of lynchings, and railroad and travel agents sold excursion tickets and arranged accommodations for people wanting to attend the event. The public spectacle of lynchings was underlined by the central and open places where they were frequently held in town. For example, some lynchings occurred on the courthouse lawn, an obvious expression of the lynch mobâ€™s complete disregard of the law. The white lynch mob would enter the jail and forcibly remove the individual or individuals from jail for the lynching. Trial by jury became impossible since the white lynch mob had already made a collective decision in their mind to convict the black individual(s), disregarding all of the conventional legal processes and protections involved. Law enforcement officials and private citizens alike supported, condoned or ignored the violence because of the complicity that had deeply rooted in society over time.
Lynchings acquired a festive atmosphere similar to contemporary concerts or sporting events, where even refreshment stands were provided for attendees and participants. In Going to the Territory (1986), writer Ralph Ellison describes lynching as “a ritual drama that was usually enacted … in an atmosphere of high excitement and led by a masked celebrant dressed in a garish costume who manipulated the numinous objects (lynch ropes, the American flag, shotgun, gasoline and whiskey jugs) associated with the rite as he inspired and instructed the actors in their gory task.” The people in attendance were not radical members of society, but rather average white citizens, some of which actively participated in the violence, while others stood by to witness the lynchings and did nothing to stop them. Following a lynching, mobs of people would eagerly run up to the black victim(s) to cut off a foot, fingers, toes, ears, lock of hair, or genitalia as souvenirs or trophies.
Photographers Promote Lynchings through the Burgeoning Postcard Industry
Photographers played a crucial role in commercializing lynchings as public spectacles. First, photographers would arrange with the organizers to stand in a favorable location in order to properly position the camera so they could capture a vivid and arresting shot of the lynching. This was important because these photographs would be made into postcards available for sale. In order for these postcards to be commercially successful, the photographer made significant effort to compose, frame, and light the shot so that the victimsâ€™ bodies and body parts could be recorded as sharply as possible. This often meant photographing lynchings in strong natural sunlight and utilizing an assistant who could hold the legs or arms of victim(s) to stabilize the body parts and prevent them from swinging when the photographs were taken.
Figure 10.2. Otis Noel Pruitt, Mississippi: The lynching of Bert Moore and Dooley Morton, 1920
Technological limitations of this period meant that photographers had to bring a portable darkroom with them and process their pictures on site. Consequently, photographers produced the lynching postcards on site and had them available for sale to interested customers. Such postcards depicted the African-American lynching victim as well as some of the crowd in attendance, but the executioner was never identified. While some of the postcards had descriptive captions including the date, location and alleged crime, others contained threats such as the word â€œWarningâ€ or white supremacist prose. For example, the photographic postcard titled â€œScene in Sabine County, Texas, June 15, 1908â€, incorporates the poem â€œThe Dogwood Treeâ€ (1908). Beneath the hanging bodies of Jerry Evans, Will Johnson, Moss Spellman, Clevel Williams, and Will Manuel, are the following words:
The Dogwood Tree
This is only the branch of a Dogwood tree;
An emblem of WHITE SUPREMACY.
A lesson once taught in the Pioneer’s school,
That this is a land of WHITE MAN’S RULE.
The Red Man once in an early day,
Was told by the Whites to mend his way.
The negro, now, by eternal grace,
Must learn to stay in the negro’s place.
In the Sunny South, the Land of the Free,
Let the WHITE SUPREME forever be.
Let this a warning to all negroes be,
Or they’ll suffer the fate of the DOGWOOD TREE.
The production of lynching postcards was big business, and the sheer volume of these postcards passing through the US Mail Service for delivery prompted the USPS to act. In 1908, they amended the Comstock Act, which already banned the publication of “obscene matter as well as its circulation in the mails” to also include Section 3893, which banned materials “tending to incite arson, murder, or assassination”. Despite the amendment, the production and commercial sale of lynching postcards persisted, and people bypassed the postal regulations by mailing the explicit materials in envelopes or mail wrappers.
Educating White Children about African Americans and the Importance of Being Seen
Lynchings attracted the attendance and participation of white families of all social classes, including their children. White parents in the South felt that taking children out of school to attend these lynchings served an important educational role. Specifically, by bringing their children to these ritualized public spectacles, parents attempted to teach children that lynchings were effective, extrajudicial public instruments of interracial social control over Africans Americans.
Children attending these lynchings learned how their parents and elders â€œsolved the problemâ€ of African Americans who were suspected or charged with varying levels of wayward behavior or who had challenged white supremacist social conventions and customs. This educational lesson was reinforced through the production, sale, and distribution of postcards by photographers that depicted parents and their children eagerly participating in or witnessing the lynching of black male victims. Rather than turning aware from the camera in shame and embarrassment for their involvement in the torturous event, attendees desire to be seen. Standing alongside the victim as a hunter stands next to his kill, attendees of all ages look directly toward the photographer in order to have their faces clearly seen and recorded by the camera.
Figure 10.3. Postcard depicting the lynching of Lige Daniels, Center, Texas, USA, August 3, 1920. The back reads, “He killed Earl’s grandma. She was Florence’s mother. Give this to Bud. From Aunt Myrtle.”
Photographing Lynchings to Affirm Social Control and Humiliation African Americans by Southern Whites
Lynching also served the political purpose of sending a powerful and lethal political message from white Americans to African Americans about the social and political control of whites over the lives of African Americans in the South and many border states from the end of Reconstruction until the 1960s. In a manifestation of racism and sexism, contemporary advocates of lynching asserted that this form of lethal, extrajudicial killing protected white women from black male rapists. Researchers and journalists demonstrated, however, that only one-quarter of lynching victims were accused of rape or attempted rape. White people participating in lynching of black males desired to humiliate their victims as much as possible before the observers. Having white women participate in a lynching contributed to the humiliation suffered by black male victims. However to maximize a victimâ€™s humiliation, a black male would often be stripped naked, whipped, burned and/or have body parts cut off (particularly the genitalia) by the white mob. Such was the case for Jesse Washington, a 17-year old farmhand who was castrated, and had his ears and fingers cut off in front of an audience of over 10,000 attendees, including the mayor and chief of police. Observers cheered the executioners on as they watched the victimâ€™s body be lowered and raised onto a burning fire for about two hours. During the time that this torturous event unfolded, a professional photographer took pictures as Washington was burned alive. Postcards, such as the one below depicting the charred corpse of Will Stanley taken on July 30, 1915, illustrate the humiliation and extreme torture inflicted on black male victims. On the back of this postcard is written, â€œThis is the barbeque we had last night. My picture is to the left with a cross over it. Your son, Joe.” A local newspaper recounts the event:
â€œA mob of 10,000 took Will Stanley, a Fort Worth Negro, from the officers soon after midnight this morning and marching him to the public square through the principal business streets, proceeded to cremate him in full view of the populace, which included many women, standing on menâ€™s shoulders to witness the grewsome sight.
All along the route the Negro fought savagely and was kicked and beaten by the mob. Arriving on the square a pyre was constructed of dry goods boxes, barrels and other inflammable stuff secured from the rear of business houses in nearby alleys. Trace chains were used to shackle the Negro.â€ â€“ Fort Worth, Tex., Record, July 31, 1915.
Figure 10.4. Postcard (front and back) depicting the lynching of Will Stanley, Temple, Texas, USA, July 30, 1915. The back reads, â€œThis is the barbeque we had last night. My picture is to the left with a cross over it. Your son, Joe.”
Lynching Photographs Inspire Protest Works by Writers and Performing Artists
Photographs of lynchings and photographic postcards of lynchings also moved artists and performers to create poems, songs, and other artistic works that decried these contemporaneous lynchings. For example, Abel Meeropol was a Jewish-American schoolteacher and songwriter who one day saw a photograph of a lynching of two black men in Indiana. The photograph, taken by studio photographer Lawrence Beitler in 1930, depicts a large crowd of men, women, and children surrounding the hanging bodies of Thomas Shipp and Abram Smith. The image was hugely successful and sold thousands of copies, which Beitler stayed up for 10 days and nights to print. The image, which became the most iconic photograph of lynching in America, had a different effect on Meeropol, who once said that the photograph “haunted” him “for days.” He was so emotionally disturbed by this image that he felt compelled to write a poem titled â€œBitter Fruit,â€ which he penned under his pseudonym Lewis Allan and published in a teacherâ€™s union magazine in 1937. The poem, which expressed his disgust over American racism, was set to music under the revised title â€œStrange Fruitâ€, and with the help of his wife and the singer Laura Duncan, it was performed at protest rallies in New York City in the 1930s.
Fig 10.5: Lawrence Beitler, Lynching of Thomas Shipp and Abram Smith in Marion, Indiana, Aug 7, 1930. Bettmann / Contributor / Getty Images
The lyrics describe two bodies that are hanging from the tree as strange fruit, and serve as a potent, vivid protest against the lynching of African Americans. The lyrics caught the attention of African American jazz singer Billie Holiday, who wanted to record it but her record refused because of the songâ€™s provocative lyrics and politically sensitive subject matter. Nevertheless, she decided to go ahead and record â€œStrange Fruit,â€ with another label in 1939, and it became one of the most popular and influential songs of Hollidayâ€™s repertoire and a famous protest song against the lynching of African Americans. Although photographs of lynchings were produced for the purpose of financial gain, they subsequently stirred emotional responses by notable artists, writers, and educators to produce artistic works that expressed their personal revulsion at the gruesome practice of lynching African Americans in the United States.
Contemporary Efforts by Artists to Preserve the Visual Legacy of Lynching in the West and the South
Several contemporary visual artists have attempted to create visual works of art that are designed to educate Americans about the history of lynching in the United States. For example, Ken Gonzales-Day, as part of his â€œErased Lynchingâ€ series, has created a collection of digitally modified photomurals and photographs based on the original lynching postcards, souvenir cards, and photographs that widely circulated in America from the late 19th century through the 1930s. In this series, Gonzalez-day digitally erased the victim and rope from the historical lynching image, leaving the tree or telegraph pole and the crowd. With the victim removed from the scene, our attention is focused on the individuals participating and witnessing the execution. This shift of focus from victim to participant, encourages us to also consider the larger social conditions that made such extrajudicial killings possible. For his series, â€œHang Trees,â€ Gonzales-Day researched the lynchings that occurred in California, and photographed the specific trees and lynching sites where Latinos, Native Americans, Asians, and African Americans had been lynched by their white perpetrators. On his website, Gonzales-Day has also produced a map of lynchings in the Greater Los Angeles region where one can visit and remember the victims at the actual sites where they were publicly lynched.
Figure 10.6. Ken Gonzalez-Day, Canyon City, Co. (Geo Witherell, 1888), Erased Lynching Series
James Allen is a white Southerner from Atlanta who produced a website called â€œWithout Sanctuary,â€ which displays his collection of approximately 100 photographs and souvenir postcards of American lynchings occurring mostly, but not exclusively, in the South. All but a handful of the lynching victims depicted on the website were African American men and women. Most of the lynching photographs were taken by professional photographers during or shortly following the lynching. The website also permits the viewer to experience the lynching images as a movie with narrative comments by Allen. The photographs have been published as a book, Without Sanctuary, which includes essays about the history and legacy of lynchings in America by noted writers and public figures such as Hilton, Leon Litwack, and Congressman John Lewis, who was a close friend and colleague of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. These noble efforts by visual artists, historical photography collectors, and writers to memorialize the victims of lynchings in the United States by presenting these digitally modified and original photographs and postcards in exhibits, books, and catalogues will help educate many Americans about this shameful and largely forgotten legacy of extreme racial violence in the country.
Photography Ignites and Documents the American Civil Rights of the 1950s and 1960s: The Lynching of Emmett Till
Photography played a crucial role in igniting the and documenting the U.S. civil rights movements in the 1950s and the 1960s, raising public consciousness of the violence and racial discrimination of African Americans subject to racial segregation laws and extrajudicial enforcement of laws and white supremacy customs in the southern states of the nation. Photographers captured harrowing images of racist organizations such as the Klux Klan, the drive for voter registration and protestersâ€™ sit-ins at restaurants, bus stations, and department stores, and various marches and rallies across the South. Their photographs were published in mainstream publications read by white Americans such as Life, Time, and Look, in an increasing number of picture magazines targeted at African Americans such as Ebony and Jet, and at local African American urban newspapers such as the Chicago Defender and New Yorkâ€™s Amsterdam News. These photographers often placed themselves in the same dangerous physical and legal exposure as the civil right activists, who frequently experienced arrest and violent treatment by law enforcement authorities in the South and extrajudicial killings by white Southerners opposed to integration and civil rights.
The year 1955 represented a turning point for the post-World War II civil rights movement in the United States. In 1955, Rosa Parks, an African American woman, learned about nonviolent civil disobedience as a strategy toward equality through a course in “Race Relations” that she completed at the Highlander Folk School in Tennessee. Later that year, on December 1, Parks refused to give her seat on a Montgomery, Alabama city bus to a white man, a violation of the cityâ€™s racial segregation ordinances, and subsequently was arrested. An African-American boycott of the municipal bus company was initiated on Dec 5, 1955 and resulted in serious economic distress for the city transit system. After 381 days, the boycott concluded on Dec 20, 1956, after the U.S. Supreme Court upheld a lower courtâ€™s decision declaring Montgomeryâ€™s segregated public bus seating unconstitutional, Consequently, the civil disobedience of Rosa Parks and the successful ensuing Montgomery Bus Boycott are often taught in school as the beginnings of the postwar civil rights movement. Actually, it was the lynching and tragic story of fourteen-year-old Emmett Till in 1955 and a photograph of his badly mutilated body that ignited the civil rights movement.
Emmett Till was an African American boy born to working-class parents on the South Side of Chicago. When he was fourteen years old, Till traveled to rural Money, Mississippi to spend the summer with his relatives and earn some money picking cotton with his Mississippi cousins in the agricultural fields. Till had been advised by his mother that whites in the South could react violently to any behavior by a black boy perceived to be a violation of white, southern customs and traditions including any action that could be interpreted as â€œdisrespectâ€ for the supreme status of white Southerners. Till arrived in Money, Mississippi on August 21, 1955, and resided with his great-uncle, Moses Wright, a sharecropper, spending his days assisting with the cotton harvest. On August 24, Till and a group of other teens, including his cousins, traveled to a local grocery store after a day of working in the fields. Accounts of what precisely occurred next vary according to different witness accounts. Some witnesses asserted that one of the other boys dared Till to speak with storeâ€™s cashier, Carolyn Bryant, a married white woman. It was also contemporaneously reported that Till whistled at, touched the hand or waist of, or flirted with Mrs. Bryant as he departed the store. Regardless, Till and his cousins kept the incident involving this white, married woman secret from his great-uncle, hoping it would just blow over. Carolyn Bryantâ€™s husband, Roy Bryant, was out of town at the time, trucking shrimp from Louisiana to Texas. In the ensuing days, however, an exaggerated tale of Tillâ€™s â€œdisrespectfulâ€ and â€œshamefulâ€ actions towards Carolyn Bryant had spread through grapevine of the white community of Money, until it reached the ears of Mr. Bryant upon his return to town on August 27. In the early morning hours of August 28, Roy Bryant, and J.W. Milam, Bryantâ€™s half -brother, forced their way into the home of Tillâ€™s great uncle and kidnapped Till at gunpoint. Bryant and Milam brutally beat the boy, gouging out one of his eyes and crushing his forehead on one side from a large metal fan they wielded against Till. Bryant and Will then took him to the banks of the Tallahatchie River, where they killed him with a single gunshot to the head. The two men then tied the teenâ€™s body to a large metal fan with a length of barbed wire before dumping the corpse into the river. On August 31, Tillâ€™s decomposing and mutilated corpse was discovered in the river. His face was unrecognizable from the murder, and positive identification was possible only due to the fact Till was wearing a monogrammed ring that had belonged to his father.
Following an indictment of Bryant and Milam for murder, a dispute developed between the local sheriff and Tillâ€™s mother, Mamie Bradley, over the burial of Tillâ€™s decomposing body. Over the objections of the Mississippi sheriff, who wanted Till buried quickly in Mississippi, Bradley demanded that her sonâ€™s corpse be returned to Chicago. The sheriff reluctantly agreed, but required the mortician sign an order prohibiting the casket from being opened. As soon as the casket arrived in Chicago, however, Mrs. Bradley demanded the casket be opened so she could be sure it was actually her son and confident that he was not alive and hiding from law enforcement authorities in Mississippi. After studying the hairline and teeth, Mrs. Bradley positively identified the body as young Emmetâ€™s, and proclaimed that the nation must view the racially motivated brutality that had been mortally inflicted on her only son. In furtherance of that objective, Mrs. Bradley insisted there would be an open-casket funeral. Tens of thousands of people lined the street outside the mortuary in Chicago to view Tillâ€™s mutilated body and days later thousands more attended his funeral at Roberts Temple Church of God in Christ. Many people passed out after viewing Tillâ€™s hideous body at the funeral home and at the church.
Figure 10.7. Emmett Till and his mother, Mamie Bradle, ca 1950
Figure 10.8. David Jackson, Emmett Till, 1955
It was, however, this highly publicized photograph of the horribly mutilated corpse of Till that actually sparked the civil rights movement. Ms. Bradley authorized photographs of the mutilated corpse of her son to be taken and published in the popular black magazine Jet and the black newspaper Chicago Defender in September of 1955. widely distributed by African American publications. These photographs of Till were subsequently published by national, popular magazines that were widely distributed and read by whites. Ms. Bradley had decided that everyoneâ€“blacks and whites, and Southerners and non-Southernersâ€“must see the pictures of her sonâ€™s dismembered body to believe and appreciate the brutality and horror of what her lynched son endured in Mississippi. Moreover, Ms. Bradley asserted that only by viewing photographs of her sonâ€™s mutilated corpse would black and white Americans be emotionally moved to politically address the racial bigotry, inhumane suffering, and violent deaths stemming from the extrajudicial enforcement of the Jim Crow system of racial segregation and white supremacy in the South. Ms. Bradley accurately predicted the impact the photographs of her sonâ€™s mutilated corpse would have on African Americans in the North and the South and their white liberal allies. After the photographs of the brutally murdered Emmett Till were published first in the black weekly Jet magazine and then in popular, national magazines for whites such as Time, Look, and Life, the Emmett Till lynching became a rallying cry for black Americans and their white allies to demand â€œsomething be done in Mississippiâ€ and the Deep South about the violent, extrajudicial enforcement of Jim Crow segregation and white cultural supremacy. Moreover, the photographs of Till motivated ordinary black and white Americans, during the 1950s and 1960s, to organize and participate in protests and demonstrations, sit-ins, boycotts, and acts of civil disobedience against racial segregation in the South, to engage in political advocacy for federal civil rights legislation to be enacted by Congress, and to initiate lawsuits in federal courts challenging the constitutionality of racial segregation and discrimination in public accommodations, employment, schools, and universities throughout the South.
An all-white jury of Mississippians acquitted Bryant and Milam for the murder of Till on September 23, 1955, despite contrary eyewitness and physical evidence implicating both of them in Tillâ€™s murder. (In a subsequent magazine article published in Look magazine in 1956, the financially compensated Bryant and Milam admitted to their respective roles in Tillâ€™s murder, but could not be tried again for murder because of the constitutional bar of double jeopardy.) The unjust jury verdict reinforced the belief among many African Americans in the North and the South, and their white liberal allies that the brutality of white supremacy had to be challenged directly in Mississippi and throughout the South to prevent the continued killings and maiming of blacks, including children. Following the not guilty verdict rendered by the Till jury, Roy Wilkins of the National Association of the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) proclaimed to a large crowd of African Americans gathered in Harlem in New York City shortly after the acquittal of Bryant and Milam:
Mississippi has decided to maintain white supremacy by murdering children. The killer of the boy felt free to lynch because there