Monday, December 22, 2008

Lynching postcards – and how we might put them to work for us

Recently, the Atlanta Center for Civil and Human Rights purchased “Without Sanctuary,” a famous collection of lynching images (many of them postcards).
Description of one of those postcards here: A particularly vivid lynching postcard depicts the charred and partially dismembered corpse of Jesse Washington, who was burned before a crowd of thousands in Waco, Tex., in 1916. The card, which appears to have been written by a white spectator to his parents, is signed “your son Joe.” He refers to the horrific murder — in which the victim’s ears, fingers and sexual organs were severed — as the “barbecue we had last night.” He identifies himself in the crowd by placing a mark in ink about his head.
It is a historical fact that almost 5,000 Americans were lynched in the United States from the 1870s to the 1970s; 80 percent of the victims were in the South, almost all of them black. Times editorial observer Brent Staples writes about an idea that was used effectively by Nazi hunters for years in a successful strategy to ferret out Hitler era Nazis who aided and abetted in heinous crimes against the Jews – proof of the crimes embedded within photographs.
Many of the people who attended lynchings as children in the 1930’s and 40’s must be still alive and walking the streets of the principal states of the lynching belt. It is also possible that their parents might still be alive. Nazi hunters have made an art of exposing war criminals through photographs taken in the death camp era. This strategy would have worked well against Southern lynch-mob killers who posed for the camera while murdering African-Americans in a campaign of terror that persisted into the mid-20th century.

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