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Emory tread carefully with lynching images

By Thurston Hatcher

ATLANTA, Georgia (CNN) -- When a collection of controversial lynching photos was loaned to Emory University, school President William Chace formed a committee to advise him on what the university should do with the material.

The President's Advisory Committee on Lynching Photographs held three public meetings, including two among Atlanta's African-American community and a third in a suburban, predominantly white area, to gauge people's feelings about the issue.

'Without Sanctuary': Images from the exhibition 

Quotes: Visitors respond to the exhibit 

Map: Lynchings in the U.S. 

Along the way, it explored whether Emory had a moral obligation, given its educational mission, to sponsor the exhibition, whether it could present the photos in a responsible way, and whether the South, circa 2001, was the appropriate time and place to show them, said committee chairman Theophus Smith.

"There were moral concerns about whether we were revictimizing the victims in the photographs by sponsoring an exhibition that would yet again expose them as objects, as mere victims," said Smith, an associate professor of religion at Emory.

"That, of course, led to the question of whether we could show them in a way that would counteract that, that would humanize them."

The responsibility ultimately belonged to curator Joseph Jordan, who said being able to help people understand the photos was as important as displaying them.

"The most difficult task was trying to make sure that you got across that this happened in different places, that the manner of killing had no geographic reference points," said Jordan, director of the Sonja Haynes Stone Black Cultural Center at the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill.

"People were immolated, dismembered and hung in all parts of the country, and there really is no way to say any one is more horrific than the next."




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