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Terreson Profile
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A hateful subject: lynching In America


This topic is not for everyone. But as small is our salon I want to make sure Delectable Mountains contributes to keeping a record ongoing of both one of the most hateful periods in American history and a nadir point in the human condition. While Americans today condemn such historical facts as the ethnic cleansing in Rwanda and the terrorist acts centering around the Middle East, without question mob lynchings following on the Reconstruction period amounted to terrorist acts intended to intimidate and disenfranchise African-Americans. Nor can such extremists as the KKK be held solely responsible for lynching. Many good men and many good women and many good children gave tacit approval, by attending the occassions, often with a picnic lunch, to these extraordinary acts of brutality.

Wikipedia has a pretty good article on the subject.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lynchings

Please note the fuller history. Please note that lynching and mob violence was not only peculiar to the South.

The Wiki article directed me to here:

http://withoutsanctuary.org/

James Allen collected postcards, postcards sent through the U.S. Postal Service, sporting these horrific images.

The Wiki article also told me something I didn't know. The Billy Holiday song lyric, "Strange Fruit", was first a poem written by a Jewish school teacher, Abel Meeropool. It was inspired by a photograph he had seen of two young men lynched in Indiana.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Strange_Fruit

And here is Ms. Holiday performing the song:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=h4ZyuULy9zs

Terreson





Sep/2/2009, 6:57 pm Link to this post Send Email to Terreson   Send PM to Terreson
 
Katlin Profile
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A hateful subject: lynching In America


Hi Tere,

I thought you might be interested in this blog entry:

"Why Does a White Girl Get to Write About a Lynched Man?" by Joy Katz

http://aboutaword.blogspot.com/2011/02/joy-katz-why-does-white-girl-get-to.html
Mar/17/2011, 9:14 am Link to this post Send Email to Katlin   Send PM to Katlin
 
Terreson Profile
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Re: A hateful subject: lynching In America


Thank you, Kat. And goodness but you have a good memory. While it is a good poem and affecting I would disagree on one cardinal point. Katz looks to liken lynchings to the rounding up of "neighbors" for the gas chambers, WW 2. And she says here: "Saying the man looks casually abandoned, like a rake, gets at (I hope) that the lynchings were ubiquitous, more functional than remarkable to the people who came to see them." In my estimation she could not be more wrong. Her misapprehension of the historical moment rather works against the poem for me.

The most disturbing photo I've seen of the lynchings, calling it horrific would be a cliche, has, in the foreground, a young white mother with her children enjoying a picnic, on the grass, in the cool shade beneath a yellow sun. In the background the silohouette of a man lynched, hanging from the tree giving her and her children shade. Then there is that pictures of lynchings got made into postcards and sent, through the U.S.Postal Service, to friends and family. Lynchings were moments of celebration in the same way I suspect the burnings of heretics and witches were moments of celebration in Medieval European towns. Then they called it the auto da fe, the freeing of the soul from earthly things...and to be celebrated.

Oh no. The moments were remarkable for its witnesses.

Tere
Mar/17/2011, 7:16 pm Link to this post Send Email to Terreson   Send PM to Terreson
 
Katlin Profile
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Re: A hateful subject: lynching In America


Hi Tere,

I wonder how knowing the information you provided would have changed Katz's writing of the poem. I think it would have. She mentions sitting at her desk, looking at the photo while eating a sandwich. An eerie, uneasy parallel to the woman and her children having a picnic while the body of the lynched man hangs in the tree behind them, in real time.

Last edited by Katlin, Mar/19/2011, 1:38 pm
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Re: A hateful subject: lynching In America


Tere posted this link in another thread, and I felt it belonged here as well:

Searching through America's past for the last 25 years, collector James Allen uncovered an extraordinary visual legacy: photographs and postcards taken as souvenirs at lynchings throughout America. With essays by Hilton Als, Leon Litwack, Congressman John Lewis and James Allen, these photographs have been published as a book "Without Sanctuary" by Twin Palms Publishers.


http://withoutsanctuary.org/
Apr/16/2011, 7:00 am Link to this post Send Email to Katlin   Send PM to Katlin
 
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Re: A hateful subject: lynching In America


What a great phrase, writing down the bones. The poet, Natalie Goldberg, coined it for describing her approach to the process of creative writing. But I've always taken to it in a sense I don't think she intended.

Two weeks ago I traveled with other bee keepers to Jasper County, TX, a four hour drive. I volunteered for the trip for reasons I did not share, shrewdly guessing reason would not be understood. That part of east Texas is sweet on the senses, especially in early spring. Land contours in gentle rolls. Rivers greener than in south LA, less silt laden. Forest dominance in long needle pines. And its well established cattle country with green pasture after green pasture framed, set off behind white fences. Cattle breed preference seems to be charolaise, as handsome a breed as is the black angus of northern VA blue grass countryside. The bee yard in which we worked was also sweet. In a clearing, shade and light mottled. It was easy to get that the beekeeper bred for gentleness, lack of colony defensiveness. I could have lain down with any of the many colonies into which I went. Intrusively. I commented on the bees' easy behavior to the keeper to whom the colonies belonged. The man went quiet for a few seconds. He then said he lost the gentle trait for awhile. Said it took him two years of selective breeding to get the gentleness back, or two to three queen generations.

Back on the road I kept thinking on all the roadside shops, the farms, the ranches, small towns and small houses: mostly I was projecting. I was trying to imagine all those interior spaces inhabited by good and decent people living in the gentleness of the countryside. I thought, how traumatized they must have been that morning in 1998, waking up to the morning news, learning of how sheriff's deputies followed a trail of body parts down a dirt road, parts that finally ended in the name of an African-American male who had been chained to a truck's back bumper and dragged for some distance and at some speed. James Byrd Jr. Byrd is a well known Texas name. One such namesake once was First Lady in the White House. Something in the mix of my thoughts passing back through Jasper County, TX. And reason why I volunteered for the day trip. I wanted to get something of the county.

Byrd Jr's murder inspired the state's legislature to enact a hate crimes law. Murder. Hate crime. The right word for the crime is what it has always been. There was a lynching that took place in Jasper Co. in 1998, and its victim was one James Byrd Jr. It is unclear if the Texas law has had much of an impact too. On the 10th anniversary of James Byrd's lynching another African-American male was lynched and precisely in the same fashion. This in Paris, TX. The victim one Brandon McClellan. Another last name famous in American history. A third modern lynching comes to mind, now that I'm thinking on it. In the same year as James Byrd Jr. was killed a delicate boy, his father said he was always the optimist, was picked up in a bar, driven down a road, beaten until brain dead, and strung up on a fence outside of Laramie, WY. News report said he was homosexual. But I can find no clear evidence to the effect. Certainly his murderers thought he was. Maybe so. In the morning after, he was discovered, barely alive, by a passerby who, at first, mistook the shape of the boy for a scarecrow. Mathew Shepard was his name. Born the same year, same month, my daughter was born.

Just writing down the bones, Natalie. I've studied on the case of lynching in America, pouring over the pictures and reading the history. Why, I can't say. Except that maybe, like Billie Holiday, my sense of decency is so horrified by the "strange fruit" of lynching it does not register. That song of hers, by the way, was penned by a NY Jew, a teacher who happened to witness a lynching while visiting Indiana. It left him shaken too. Lynching's history is telling in its salients. Without question it began as an act of domestic terrorism. In post-Reconstruction South it was a tool used by Southern whites to disenfranchise freed African-Americans. CSA general, Bedford Forrest, founder of the KKK, comes to mind. Even on the battlefield he was such a murderous bastard I suspect he was pathological. Domestic terrorism and quite effective too not only in the south but as far north as Indiana, Minnesoto, and as far west as Oregon, which last state, in the 20s, had the largest KKK chapter in the country. Nor were its victims African-American only. Italian immigrants were also lynched. A most famous case of Italians getting lynched occurred in New Orleans, but it happened elsewhere too. Suggesting what? That lynching functions as a fear of the "other", and as an expression of American nativism.

The most disturbing salient of lynching is this. Its domesticity. Lynchings were not events occurring on the sly, in the dark of the night, made in shame of who might see a man or woman hanging from a tree. Lynchings were public, in broad daylight, in broadly lit city streets. Postcards were made from the pictures taken of the lynched, sent to friends around the country through the postal service. At a time when the U.S. Postal Service would not allow the likes of D.H. Lawrence or James Joyce novels to get circulated because obscene, these postcards got circulated freely. There is one photograph I've seen I cannot escape. In the background an African-American hanging from a tree is framed against the skylight coming into a shade of trees. In the foreground? In the foreground there is a young white mother spreading out a picnic, prepared, on a soft blanket in the green grass, with her children in tow. The scene is idyllic. For the family.

The philosopher, Hannah Arendt, coined a phrase to describe the architect of Jewish extermination by the Nazis, one Erich Eichmann. She said he possessed the banality of evil. She meant that evil can be lacking in any capacity for moral self-reflection. A poet friend has coined a term to describe what it is like when you discover through the news your next door neighbor is a serial killer. She calls it the neigborliness of evil. They are both right. The technocrat of evil says to himself he is doing a job, 9 to 5. Neighbor next door, with carcasses of women rotting in his attic, I bet he mows his lawn and takes out the garbage. What I fear the most is the communion of evil. A wafer on the tongue and that young mother on her blanket with her legs folded beneath her. Yes. This is the capacity for evil I fear the most.

Tere

Last edited by Terreson, Apr/17/2011, 2:50 am
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