New Book of Photographs Recalls the Trauma of American History

Looking back at a lynching that shocked America and galvanized the civil rights movement

“I felt strongly that it was cotton that killed Emmett Till,” says photographer Andrew Lichtenstein. Andrew Lichtenstein
César Chavez’s fasting room during the 1968 Delano, CA, grape strike. From Marked, Unmarked, Remembered by Andrew Lichtenstein. Andrew Lichtenstein
From Marked, Unmarked, Remembered by Andrew Lichtenstein. Andrew Lichtenstein
The ruins of a slave cabin near the Combahee River in South Carolina. Harriet Tubman led a raid near this site. From Marked, Unmarked, Remembered by Andrew Lichtenstein. Andrew Lichtenstein
A small stone monument marks the site of the 1676 murder of Metacomet, known as King Philip by the English, in Bristol, Rhode Island. From Marked, Unmarked, Remembered by Andrew Lichtenstein. Andrew Lichtenstein

He was familiar with the horrifying death 62 years ago of Emmett Till, the 14-year-old African-American who was kidnapped by white supremacists, beaten, shot and thrown into a river weighed down with a 75-pound cotton gin fan after supposedly whistling at a white woman in Money, Mississippi. Yet knowing the details did not prepare the photographer Andrew Lichtenstein for the unsettling experience of visiting the crime scene. “Money feels like a place that hasn’t moved forward in time,” he says. The author of Marked, Unmarked, Remembered, a new book of photographs commemorating traumas in America’s past, Lichtenstein recalls Till’s murder with the image above, taken in Money, which evokes cotton’s connection to slavery and segregation. “Cotton’s a beautiful crop, the way it catches the light,” he says. “But its history is blood-soaked.”

Marked, Unmarked, Remembered: A Geography of American Memory

From Wounded Knee to the Edmund Pettus Bridge, and from the Upper Big Branch mine disaster to the Trail of Tears, "Marked, Unmarked, Remembered" presents photographs of significant sites from US history accompanied by essays from leading historians, posing unsettling questions about the contested memory of traumatic episodes from the nation’s past. -Andrew Lichtenstein, Photographer; Alex Lichtenstein, Editor

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This article is a selection from the October issue of Smithsonian magazine