The Tuskegee Institute records the lynching of 3,436 blacks between 1882 and 1950. This is probably a small percentage of these murders, which were seldom reported, and led to the creation of the NAACP in 1909, an organization dedicated to passing federal anti-lynching laws. Through all this terror and carnage someone -- many times a professional photographer -- carried a camera and took pictures of the events. These lynching photographs were often made into postcards and sold as souvenirs to the crowds in attendance. These images are some of photography's most brutal, surviving to this day so that we may now look back on the terrorism unleashed on America's African-American community and perhaps know our history and ourselves better. The almost one hundred images reproduced here are a testament to the camera's ability to make us remember what we often choose to forget.
James Allen is an American antique collector, known in particular for his collection of 145 photographs of lynchings in America, published in 2000 with Jon Lewis as Without Sanctuary: Lynching Photography in America. The collection includes images of the lynching in 1911 of Laura and Lawrence Nelson, in Okemah, Oklahoma, and of Leo Frank in 1915 near Marietta, Georgia.
There worst book I ever read. Life changing. Where did all of that hate go? Ritual murders turned into social events for white supremacist mobs with glee in their eyes--gazing at tortured Black bodies. America will never be post-racial, too many victims need justice and collectively we keep putting off the conversation about race and white supremacy--the schizophrenic, sociopathic, genocidal idea that a lack of melanin equals superiority and gives ground to mutilate--physically, emotionally, socially--another human being whose skin is rich in melanin.
In his introduction to this horrifying photographic record of racial terrorism, historian and professor Leon F. Litwack writes: "Obviously, it is easier to choose the path of collective amnesia, to erase such memories, to sanitize our past. It is far easier to view what is depicted on these pages as so depraved and barbaric as to be beyond the realm of reason. That enables us to dismiss what we see as an aberration, as the work of crazed fiends and psychopaths"(33-34).
For anyone so inclined, for those who long for "the good old days," wax nostalgic about the "gallantry" of the Old South, or generally feel that racial oppression "wasn't that bad," this gut-wrenching record of brutality and savage inhumanity must surely function as a corrective. For my part, this book came upon me, as Kafka would have it, "like ill-fortune," and I found myself both fascinated and repelled by the record of human depravity that it chronicles. It prompted me to begin reading more about the history of lynching, an interest that culminated in a research project I undertook in one of my college classes on African-American history. I can honestly say that it was one of the most difficult experiences, both intellectually and emotionally, of my academic career.
Without Sanctuary provides a photographic record of the phenomenon of lynching, reproducing 98 images, many of them from postcards made as commemorative souvenirs. In addition to the brief foreword by Congressman John Lewis, a historical overview by Litwack, and a short personal reaction by Hilton Als, the book contains explanatory notes for each of the plates, and an afterword by James Allen, the man who amassed this most disturbing collection.
The extreme savagery of lynching may surprise those who had assumed that this activity involved "mere" hanging. The ways in which the victims' bodies were mutilated, both before and after death, makes for sickening reading and viewing. The hacking off of fingers and other body parts for souvenirs reads like some ghoulish detail of a horror novel. As always, fact is stranger and stronger, than the most bizarre of fictions. The very existence of these photographs, the fact that they were taken at all, is evidence of the almost pathological depravity of those who committed these terrible crimes. Not only were they not ashamed of their deeds, they recorded them for posterity, complete with "humorous" comments about "barbeques."
The only book I can think of, that comes even close to this in its up-front and photographic depiction of human evil, is The Auschwitz Album, which reproduces photographs that the Nazis took of Hungarian Jews as they arrived at the death camp. But even these photos do not depict the actual murder of the victims, the gas chamber, and the crematorium.
There can be no doubt that this book is deeply disturbing, traumatic even, to the reader. But as has so often been observed, it is necessary to arm ourselves with information about the atrocities of the past, in order to prevent their repetition. To that end, I recommend this to everyone. As William Pickens wrote in Lynching and Debt Slavery, an ACLU report published in 1921: "To cheapen the lives of any group of men, cheapens the lives of all men, even our own. This is a law of human psychology, or human nature. And it will not be repealed by our wishes nor will it be merciful to our blindness."
This book is a gold mine for so much in American history that it's hard to know where it will end.
Lynching is something that I hold akin to the Holocaust to me: it existed, and I might have known it happened, but I didn't really know what it means. I try to learn all that I can about the Holocaust, because even today, we learn new and terrible things about what was done in the Holocaust.
I think Lynching is a closed topic. And this book is the definitive explanation. First of all, without being absurdly cliche (minus the punctuation marks) about what a picture is worth, you only need to see the accidental photgraphic essay on Froggy's demise to grasp how big a deal this is. The essays at the beginning are also useful, too, though Hilton Als' is the only one that will stand up to the test of time.
This book's pictures say so much. The fact that a well-dressed African-American man (ostensibly...though it's unclear if that's entirely true) that looks like he just stepped out of the Gap was lynched in 1960 doesn't need to be explained. Or the fact that some of these were sent as postcards. Or, for that matter, a decapitated and dismembered man photographed, with a warning about not speaking to white women.
I'm a white man, so I cannot pretend to understand the sort of horrors that minorities have faced throughout history in America. I don't think I need to in order to grasp how important this book is. Or, why I should show this to the students I teach.
As an English teacher, when Jim the slave reacts with complete fear when he is threatened with being lynched, Tom and Huck laugh at him, and it's an otherwise minor moment in a seminal book. Without Sanctuary allows you the chance to not only see yet one more reason why Twain was a master, but why Jim shouldn't have been the only one fearing for his life. Why did so many people risk their lives to get slaves to safety? You'll get a better idea with this book.
I am not sure this is the kind of book one actually "reads" as much as "experiences." I found this book incredibly brave and, based on filmed interviews with the author, completed with sincere humanity and humility. For every image, I found myself wondering what became of the terrorists and their children. What became of the victims' families? What is the intergenerational legacy of this trauma? How did that type of parenting affect the children of the torturers (whether attending or not) and what does that mean for the people they encountered in business and their professions? Just think, a nine year old attending a public torturing in 1950 would be 75 years old in 2016 and would have been a youthful 24 in 1968. In several images there were thousands of attendees, some of whom traveled from great distances to watch and/or participate in the torture. To question the legacy of this trauma and the human incubation of such parenting is to approach answering why we continue to "deal with" racism today.
The photographs of lynchings in James Allen’s book documents historical atrocities. Far more than a new addition to an encyclopedia of the Southern Gothic, WITHOUT SANCTUARY stands alone as a chronicle of shame and tragedy, one that controverts the received wisdom that most Southern lynchings were the sole work of the disgruntled “white trash” comprising the Ku Klux Klan. In fact, Klan members, masked and working under cover of night, are somehow less troubling than the “ordinary” white citizens of Dixie seen in these pages—men, women, and children who were photographed while participating, actively or complicitly, in the torture, mutilation, burning alive, and/or hanging of black citizens in broad daylight and in public.
Leon F. Litwak, whose prefatory essay in WITHOUT SANCTUARY summarizes the history of “extra-legal execution,” points to the numerous cameras visible in some lynching photographs as proof of the “openness and...self-righteousness that animated the participants.” The presence of cameras has also been noted in prose; Litwak quotes Thomas Brooks, a man who lived in Tennessee’s Fayette County in 1915: “Hundreds of Kodaks,” wrote Brooks, “clicked all morning at the scene of the lynching. People in automobiles came from miles around to view the corpse dangling from the end of a rope.... Women and children were there by the score. At a number of country schools the day’s routine was delayed until boy and girl pupils could get back from viewing the lynched man.”
The photographs of white lynch mobs are deeply disturbing, but the photographs of lynching victims themselves are stomach-turning. Two plates display the charred remains of African American men whose legs were chopped off at the knee before they were burned beyond recognition and hanged. Nonetheless, a fathomless degree of horror—a horror more psychological, and thus perhaps more Gothic—is introduced with the “lynching postcards” that were made from such photographs. These postcards were initially sold at dime stores, and apparently there was plenty of demand: “Picture card photographers,” reported Litwak’s Fayette County witness, “installed a portable printing plant at the bridge and reaped a harvest in selling postcards showing a photograph of the lynched Negro.” Many of these postcards show the smiling faces of women and children on mobs’ outskirts; one is signed “Give this to Bud From Aunt Myrtle.”
When laws finally forbade mailing such postcards, an underground, hand-to-hand market sprang up, fed by the 1920’s resurgence of the Klan, which favored the postcards as a means of warning African Americans thought to challenge the status quo. One probable victim of the Klan was seized for wearing a silk top hat; perhaps he’d ignored a lynching postcard left at his home, its obverse reading “Warning//The answer of the Anglo-Saxon race to black brutes who would attack the Womanhood of the South”—a phrasing that suggests an additional twist to what we normally term Gothic. In short, Allen’s collection of photographs reveals lynching postcards to be racial pornography of the most extreme sort, equivalent to stills from racial snuff films.
An important question about WITHOUT SANCTUARY is posed by Hilton Als: Why would any sane person perform the painstaking, and doubtless nightmarish, archival work that underlies the book? Perhaps because Allen is a self-proclaimed “picker,” a pejorative Southernism term applied to a man with no apparent job other than wandering the roads of his home state to acquire things deemed “telling.”
In Allen’s case, these things included “handmade furniture and slave-made pots and pieced quilt tops and carved walking sticks” and, eventually, lynching postcards. “In America,” he bitterly pronounces, “everything is for sale, even a national shame.” A comment a bit too editorial to have come from Flannery O’Connor’s pen, but Allen would surely be at home in one of her stories.
After all, it was O’Connor who noted of the Southern grotesque, in its human incarnation, the lack of mere humor or quirky diversion that characterized “Gothic” or “grotesque” elements in other regions’ literature. Folks whose lives revolve around such things as collecting lynching photos, O’Connor wrote, “carry an invisible burden; their fanaticism is a reproach, not merely an eccentricity.” A reproach indeed, one from which Allen does not exempt himself, one that seems to have issued directly from O’Connor’s own fierce, furious, and doom-bringing vision of the Old Testament Jehovah, accompanied not by sweet baby Jesus but Christ the Destroyer.
(originally published in the NASHVILLE SCENE)
n.b. O'Connor, always smarter than I'll ever hope to be, would have shared Melissa Harris-Perry's view of the now commonly used term "lynching" in regard to political figures, which she invoked recently in the NATION, citing both Clarence Thomas and Herman Cain. Taking a broader view than I was able to find, Harris-Perry points out that the act was never about protecting vulnerable white women from "brute"--i.e. superior--African-American male sexuality; indeed, in it was a means of maintaining the social order and still is. How else did Thomas attain his appointment to the Supreme Court, and, for that matter, why hasn't he been impeached? When, after all, did one ever hear of men of either color being lynched to protect vulnerable African-American women? What should have been obvious to me suddenly now is, and ironically so, since I located Harris-Perry's essay on the Facebook page of Ron Wynn, a former colleague at the same alt-weekly where I wrote the original review of this book.
Ron Wynn Takes a long time to make the point, but eventually does.
Herman Cain: What High-Tech Lynching? | http://www.alternet.org/story/153155/... Despite the typically explosive alchemy of race and sexuality, the details of the charges against presidential candidate Cain seem to have elicited little more than a shrug. ·
Diann Blakely: Very, very provocative. Reviewing WITHOUT SANCTUARY for the SCENE, which frightened me so badly I wrapped the book in plastic and left it on the Boss's front porch--it seemed so evil I didn't want it in my house, I explained, though I'm sure he thought I was crazy--but I'm going to post this with my piece on NBCC/Goodreads, for I've honestly never considered this POV.
Diann Blakely: So thank you, Ron and Ms. Harris-Perry! I'm very fond and always appreciative of people who make me think about items, particularly ones of such profound importance, in a way I might not have otherwise.
I was not totally ignorant of the lynching phenomenon in the United States, as my parents and grandparents told me all about it from the time I was young (and yes, they were all opposed to it.) It was also discussed at length in my college African American Poetry and Drama class in the year 2000.
But the reality of these gruesome photos is something I was totally unprepared for (my textbooks didn't exactly have any pictures in them.)
Some things I learned from Without Sanctuary that did away with some misconceptions I had about this shameful part of our country: a) lynching did not die out after 1920. Many of the photos in this book are dated well into the '30s, '40s and even 1960. b) Not all lynching victims were black. This book contains images of lynched Italian immigrants and several white lynching victims (much to my shock.) c) Not all lynching victims were male. There is a terrible photograph in here of an African American woman in Oklahoma hanging from a bridge. This picture, believe it or not, was the only positive element in reading this collection--someone tried to mail that cruel travesty as a postcard, and over the stamp on the other side was written "unsendable." So at least someone in an Oklahoma post office may have had some decency regarding the wrongness of lynching.
An amazing feat, this book, despite its horrifying subject, which is as much a part of American history as the Model-T, Franklin Roosevelt and Nolan Ryan. Yet I almost never hear anyone talk about lynching anywhere.
A picture is worth a thousand words, and this book has many pictures. Although I remain fascinated by the history of race relations in The United States in the 1920s, I find it difficult to comprehend the level of brutality demonstrated, by self-identified believers, in waging what can only be described as a terror campaign to subjugate a segment of American society. This book is tremendously helpful.
The (p. 15) report on the execution of the Holberts, captured by a reporter for the "Vicksburg Evening Post" demonstrates the sheer inhuman brutality of these acts of terror, but also how public and accepted they were.
I read something recently that reminded me that, in the time of Shakespeare, the standard punishment for a Jesuit priest, caught ministering to recusants in England, was to burn his entrails while he was still alive.
"Not to know what happened before you were born is to be a child forever." - Cicero.
Many societies have outgrown this level of barbarism. I look forward to the day when all have.
Oh my goodness. Do not read this book alone. Get some friends and put together a discussion group around the reading, and bring lots of napkins, and expect surprises - especially when viewing the photos. This blood-thirsty chapter in American history is underexposed and perhaps in this new century we can talk more about it in a diplomatic way.
How does one rate a book that has such horrible photos of lynching in America (it's not just in the south; there were photos of Yreka, CA and Duluth, MN; and there were lynchings as recent as the 1930s)? Half the book contains photos; the rest has text including comments about each of the 98 photos. I read very little of the text so I'm sure I missed much of what the book is about. Many of the photos were of postcards, which seemed really strange to me. I didn't want to be reminded of this gruesome part of USA history, but I decided to do it anyway.
Man what a fucked up bhook coming from someone who is a descendent of african of that time Im ashed thats apzrt of american history, one of things that make sme ashamed of bieng american, its so powerful photographs of a past that you dont wont to happen again. Great read and must of for hiostry buff aficinado's. Spoiler must of the time in the book you will se white people smiling while the brothas are bieng hanged, that should tell you something!
This is a horrifying book that should be viewed by every American as a reminder of how, not long ago, the lynching of Black men (and sometimes Black women and children) was commonplace in the US, especially on the Southern US. What is almost more horrible than the pictures of the corpses is the faces of the spectators at these scenes of ritual violence. We need to never forget what was once done in the name of misguided justice and out of a belief that Blacks were hardly more than animals.
This book is not for the soft at heart. The images consist of various lynchings in America - men, women, blacks, whites, jews. What is compelling about this book is how society socialized a person's death through postcards. Yes...a postcard...because lynching was a social event - hence the title Without Sanctuary. It is a must read book regarding one aspect of American history.
Thoroughly disturbing book. Displays the vicious and inhuman racism of the south prior to 1950. Extremely unsettling to look at, but very useful as a teaching resource, esp. for classes with younger college students who may be unaware of the commonness of horrendous racial violence in the South. The postcard images esp. drive this point home. A useful but chilling book.
One of the toughest books I’ve ever read. I felt sick immediately after I began reading and thought I might vomit. One of the photographs depicts my known family ancestor, so I wrapped my arms around him and thanked him for his life, for his contributions, for the smiles he must’ve given his beloveds.
It took me a long time to finish this book despite most of it being pictures. Not only of course are l*nchings inhumane, but learning about how these became events with ballads written and handed out to onlookers, people traveling in to see it, having literal live theatre productions of this where you could pay to shoot the victim, taking pieces of the victims for souvenirs, racial infighting, and ultimately passing around these horrific images as postcards to send to people you know.
I can’t say that I urge everyone to look at this book as it’s so heavy and raw, but I learned how truly torturous these productions were.
I happened across a review of this book, and the events described were sufficiently disturbing to compel me to order a copy. The text and images are at times so horrific that you must put the book down before continuing. As Americans we can be proud that "cruel & unusual punishment" was prohibited by our Constitution -- a provision that the admirable but nevertheless slave-owning Founding Fathers included, perhaps realizing that their own actions would have resulted in being hanged, drawn, quartered, & burned had the Revolution been lost. But the good church-going Christian mobs who committed the atrocities described here had no such prohibition in mind. Terrible to think that these things happened in this country. I may watch "Django Unchained" tonight with my teenage daughter. I fear that some appalling violence will be depicted (some no doubt Tarantino's anachronistic fantasy) that will prompt her to ask me, "Were white people as cruel as this to black people?" After reading "Without Sanctuary," I will reply, "Yes, and worse - except that when black people had value as property, they were afforded some minimal level of physical protection." One person interviewed in the book comments that in the late 19th and early 20th Century, it was always "open season" on Negroes, who were viewed as less than human - and they were tortured with methods not even used on animals. The book gives much insight into the courage shown by the civil rights era "Freedom Riders" and others: They had enough of terror. But it is with a great deal of caution that I recommend this great book to my daughter or to any other sensitive reader.
Read/ reviewed this book years ago, and in my initial review, I praised it for showing the truth about lynchings, which most US history classes gloss over, since (Whyte) America would just as soon pretend this level of horrific violence never happened at the scope or severity it did. The review ignited a hotbed of commentary over what some believed was the glorification, even the pornographication of violence against African-Americans. This of course is a legitimate criticism, but as the comments moved away from questioning the merit of the work (or the book itself) and into personal attacks, I scrapped the review and decided to start again.
In terms of being thought provoking, this books is a "5", but I can't "like" this chronicle of abomination. While I still adhere to the need to face the past fully and honestly if the US is to move forward, I don't have a ready answer for the question "At what point does documentation of horror become pornographic/exploitative?", a question even more relevant today as anyone can be a witness (whether you want to or not) to brutality and murder via the internet.
This is a book I'd rather didn't exist in that it documents with a clear eye the monstrous torture of black Americans by white Americans through lynching, burning, stabbing, and mutilating, all done with great cheer and vigor, with family and friends, church members and community stalwarts, grinning as the camera focuses on their deeds and their whole-hearted approval.
I sometimes say I can't understand the depravity and wickedness of humanity in that we do these things AND also claim to be a great nation--but it is who we are, and nothing will change about our present until we both look at the past and repent, and change our behaviors today.
We are not good because we have great principles. We have principles that should guide us, but that are honored as nice ideas but not as boundaries or even as goals.
Just a terrible, tragic history that needs to be exposed so we can be reminded of what we do when our community approves of our monstrous behaviors.
I found the introductory essay of this book, by Leon Litwack, to be really informative; it was very well footnoted with historical references, and describes the culture of lynching in the South, and its basis in white fear of blacks. The stories he relates of specific lynchings are almost more horrifying than the pictures. However, as soon as I opened the book, and went to examine the photos... I was surprised to see that the first photos are of white men, several of which are in the west - California, Kansas and Minnesota.
While I completely agree with the observations of Litwack, the book's photos show a propensity for lynch justice against all sorts of minorities: Italians, Jews, and poor whites etc. The essay totally book fails to discuss this phenomenon while it documents it.
This is one of the hardest books I've ever read. It's hard giving it 5 stars, but that is simply because of what we see happened...the book itself, to have compiled all of this, is a must read. While there are amazing things within the African & Black community to focus on, of course this also needs to be focused on not only by non-whites, but if anything, especially by non-whites in hopes they will open their eyes and understand, even a little bit, of the WHY. I have light skin, it doesn't matter that I'm spanish, because I look white. It does shame me, and I don't want white privilege....Yet there are too many whom flaunt their white privilege while denying it. I don't see how anyone can do that or deny it after reading this book; after seeing what is still going on today, just in a new way.
The whole thing goes with the theme opened up by Rod Dreher, Bill Moyers, and the James Cone book shown on my goodreads site. The book Without Sanctuary goes with a travelling exhibition of postcards from lynchings in USA between 1870 and 1940 or thereabouts. Horror show that matches Islamic State tortures. Of course Canada after the residential schools apology and Truth and Reconciliation Commission can hardly pretend the same genes are not in this country. Repentance and reconciliation is the believer's hope; so good that nothing is too big for a crucified and risen again Christ and his genuine people. Lord have mercy.
I own this book...Its not pretty or comforting or nice and thats why I own it..Because many white people need to be taught about the horror and traumatic past of racism that still haunts people of color and photographs dont lie....They tell it just the way it was...No apologies or sugarcoating...Forces whites to get out of dry drunk addict denial when they look at and read the captions of this very important book..The next time you hear a white person tell a person of color"It happened a long time ago, just get over it", show them this book..
My review of Without Sanctuary: Lynching Photography in America took about the longest time for me to mull over, and ultimately I am left only with the comment that there is nothing I could possibly say about it that other reviewers haven't already said more eloquently and persuasively. Devastating, depressing, and a must-read in order to understand race relations in the United States.
Bought and read this book years ago. This book takes you into the depth of man's psyche and the evils that it is capable of producing. Pure evil is what I saw in this book. If it happened once, it can happen again! The evil acts are rooted in FEAR; and as long as white FEAR exist the potential for that evil to re-exist will be present. One thing that is never talked about is the post-trauma that the collective black community has to deal with everyday; it is a trauma that is never allowed to heal due to fear.
One of the most disturbing books on parts of our ugly American history I have ever read. The cowards and their mob mentality, people participating in the injustices, the killing to keep Black Americans down, and just the plain savagery and cruelty which was sport for some should make every reader of this book sick to their stomachs. This book should be required reading for all because it touches upon the long history of racism in this country and it gives context to what is happening in this day and age.
This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.
A dark, eye-opening look into the lynching culture in America, where "between 1882 and 1968, some 4,743 lynchings were recorded throughout the United States." The atmosphere and brutal mob mentality depicted in the text, photographs and postcards are shocking, and made moreso because, more often than not, the most "upstanding" citizens are defended through news reports and interviews with regard to their vigilantism. The juxtaposition of bodies, hung, burned, whipped, and mutilated and the smiling, jeering faces of the surrounding men, women and children is ubelievably powerful.