Exhibit of lynching photos is a harsh display of hatred
From Correspondent Maria Hinojosa
January 18, 2000
NEW YORK (CNN) -- A horrible chapter in American history is the focus of a New York gallery exhibit that illustrates the cruelty -- and bizarre revelry -- at many lynchings in the United States.
All photos show voiceless victims of hate; men and women stripped, lashed, beaten, burned and hung. Often their only crime was one they could not control -- the color of their skin.
"Many times they would lynch someone by a railroad track so that passing trains would see and pass the word on and also as a form of intimidation to people in surrounding black community," said the curator of the exhibit, James Allen.
Allen spent 15 years collecting the photos.
"We hope people will walk away with the idea that this was a very frequent act of violence," said Allen. "We won't be able to deny it any longer."
The most recent photo was made in McDuffie County, Georgia, in 1960.
Many of the photos are actually postcards that were bought and sold decades ago as souvenirs.
"People wanted souvenirs, souvenirs of the spectacle," explained Andrew Roth, who co-owns the gallery exhibiting the work.
"There were thousands upon thousands of people that came to many of these events that bought these photos, not only as souvenirs, but as reminders of history," said Roth.
Sometimes, even more horrific trophies were taken away from lynchings. These trophies included body parts.
"The individual who framed this," pointed out Allen, "has preserved his proud locks of the victim's hair. He's also written underneath the first mat, in a sort of dialect: 'Bo pointing to his nigger.' "
What drove Americans to do this to their own? Desperate to see, perhaps desperate to understand, people now stand in line to bear witness.
"It's so easy for so many people to forget what the history of this country is about," said one woman after viewing the disturbing photographs.
"It's a very ugly sort of history because people felt the need to photograph these heinous moments," said another viewer.
Some felt the need not only to photograph -- but to actively participate, to smile at a camera ... in the presence of death.
"After you get through the shock," said Allen, "what lingers are the images of the perpetrators, and not of the corpses, and that's where the focus needs to be."
The gallery also displays a poster from 1922 on which the NAACP wrote: "To maintain civilization in America, you cannot escape your responsibility." The exhibit is a harsh reminder of America's responsibility for a horrible chapter of racial hatred.
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