A recent FBI report found that hate crimes increased in the U.S. by 17% in 2017, and the past few weeks have seen such bias-motivated crimes as the murder of two African Americans in a Kentucky grocery store by a man who had initially tried to enter a nearby historically black church. So the opening of the Cantor Fitzgerald Gallery’s latest exhibit, The Legacy of Lynching: Confronting Racial Terror in America, felt particularly urgent and necessary.
Lynching—premeditated, extrajudicial, public murder, often by hanging—is just one type of hate crime, but it has a long, violent history in the United States. Emerging after slavery’s end in 1865 as a violent means of exerting racial control, it continued through the 20th century as a way to fortify white supremacy and suppress African American civil rights. And it wasn’t just the murdered people and the terrified communities of color who were affected. Lynching’s aftershocks can still be felt today in the forms of mass incarceration and the disproportionate sentencing of people of color.
The Legacy of Lynching exhibit, which premiered last year at the Brooklyn Museum, confronts America’s history of racial terror not through explicit photographs, but by presenting groundbreaking research conducted by the Equal Justice Initiative—the nonprofit founded by lawyer and MacArthur fellow Bryan Stevenson to challenge racial and economic injustice, particularly as they affect the criminal justice system—alongside complementary artworks and film. The Haverford version of the exhibit includes new, original curatorial contributions from Kalia Brooks Nelson and, therefore, many pieces not shown in the Brooklyn run.
The heart of the show is EJI’s interactive racial terror lynching map and a collection of video portraits with lynching victims’ descendants, illuminating the ripple effect of racial terror through generations. These audio-visual materials are enriched by works from prominent contemporary artists (Josh Begley, Alexandra Bell, Sonya Clark, Ken Gonzales-Day, Ayana V Jackson, Titus Kaphar, Glenn Ligon, Lorna Simpson, Hank Willis Thomas) that grapple with the legacy of racial injustice in America—particularly police brutality in communities of color—and archival materials (including those drawn from the College’s Quaker and Special Collections), such as historical newspaper accounts of lynchings and pamphlets protesting them.
Explore this important, moving exhibition for yourself through December 16. A related symposium, gathering artists, activists, and curators for a conversation on the history of lynching, antiracist activism, and the role of contemporary art in visualizing and confronting racial violence, is open to the public and is another way to discover additional context for the material.
The Legacy of Lynching: Confronting Racial Terror in America is organized by the Brooklyn Museum and the Equal Justice Initiative. Support for its presentation at Haverford is provided by the John B. Hurford ’60 Center for the Arts and Humanities, the Office of the Provost, the Interdisciplinary Minor in Visual Studies, the Center for Peace and Global Citizenship, the Interdisciplinary Concentration in Peace, Justice, and Human Rights, and the Department of English.
Photos by Arshiya Bhayana ’22, Lisa Boughter, and Courtney Carter ’17.