Without Sanctuary: Mementos of Lynching

In the decades after the Civil War, segregationists practiced a uniquely American form of terrorism against black citizens. A wrenching exhibit in London reminds us that such executions were often treated as celebrations. Warning: These images are disturbing! "Without Sanctuary: Lynching Photography From America" is presented by Autograph APB, on view at Rivington Place, London, until July 30, 2011.

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  • Thomas Shipp and Abram Smith

    Thomas Shipp and Abram Smith

    Aug. 7, 1930
    Marion, Ind.
    Inscribed in pencil on the inner, gray matte: “Bo pointn to his niga.” On the yellowed outer matte: “klan 4th Joplin, Mo. 33.” Flattened between the glass and double mattes are locks of the victims’ hair.

    “Without Sanctuary: Lynching Photography in America” was organized by the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center in Cincinnati. All images courtesy of the National Center for Civil & Human Rights in Atlanta. The exhibit is current being presented by Autograph APB, on view at Rivington Place, London, until July 30, 2011.

  • Shipp and Smith

    Shipp and Smith

    Aug. 7, 1930
    Marion, Ind.

    The images from “Without Sanctuary” depict in graphic detail the brutal lynchings of as many as 4,000 black men and women between 1882 and 1968. Many of the bodies were mutilated, burned or tortured. Photographs from these incidents were turned into mass-produced postcards distributed through the mail, shared among friends and treasured in family photo albums.

  • A Dual Murder

    A Dual Murder

    The lynching of Laura Nelson and her son.
    May 25, 1911
    Okemah, Okla.
    Etched in the negative: “1911 copy right, g.h. farnum, okemah. okla 2897.”

    Collector James Allen: ” ‘Without Sanctuary’ is an unearthing of collective mass murder, of mass-memory graves excavated from the American conscience. Part postal cards, common as dirt; souvenirs skin-thin and fresh-tattooed proud; the trade cards of those assisting at ritual racial killings and other acts of a mad citizenry. The communities’ best citizens lurking just outside the frame. Destined to decay, these few survivors of an original photo population of many thousands turn the living into pillars of salt.”

  • Laura Nelson

    Laura Nelson

    May 25, 1911
    Okemah, Okla.

  • Lawrence Nelson

    Lawrence Nelson

    May 25, 1911
    Okemah, Okla.

  • An Anonymous Death

    An Anonymous Death

    Unknown victim
    Circa 1900
    Unknown location

    The bludgeoned body of an African-American male is propped up in a rocking chair, with blood-splattered clothes and white and dark paint applied to the face and head. Also visible is the shadow of a man using a rod to prop up the victim’s head.

  • Lige Daniels

    Lige Daniels

    Aug. 3, 1920
    Center, Texas
    Onlookers, including young boys

  • Texas Postcard

    Texas Postcard

    The lynching of Lige Daniels, postcard reverse
    Aug. 3, 1920
    Center, Texas

  • Frank Embree

    Frank Embree

    July 7, 1899
    Fayette, Mo.

  • The Death of Frank Embree

    The Death of Frank Embree

    July 7, 1899
    Fayette, Mo.

  • Rubin Stacy

    Rubin Stacy

    July 19, 1935
    Fort Lauderdale, Fla.
    Reverse of photograph inscribed, “Father is 5th from right … “

  • A South Georgia Murder

    A South Georgia Murder

    Unknown victim
    Unknown date
    Georgia
    Two men on horseback at center of group, corpse in front of rider on the right

    Collector James Allen: “I believe the photographer was more than a perceptive spectator at lynchings. The photographic art played as signifcant a role in the ritual as torture or souvenir grabbing — a sort of two-dimensional biblical swine, a receptacle for a collective sinful self. Even dead, the victims were without sanctuary.”

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