Over the past six years, the Alabama-based Equal Justice Initiative has been chronicling racial terror lynchings used to enforce Jim Crow laws and racial segregation. In June, the organization documented 4,084 such lynchings in 12 Southern states between the end of Reconstruction and 1950—at least 800 cases more than the states had previously claimed. Now, a new exhibition at the Brooklyn Museum is juxtaposing EJI's research findings with art to trace the pervasive influence of racial terror from post-Civil War America to the present.
The show, "The Legacy of Lynching: Confronting Racial Terror in America,” which runs through September 3, is a collaborative effort between the museum and EJI, and it incorporates archival materials and artwork, including more than a dozen pieces from the Brooklyn Museum’s collection, highlighting works by African-American artists Jacob Lawrence, Sanford Biggers and Rashid Johnson, writes Robin Scher of ARTnews.
EJI’s contribution to the exhibition—video testimony from descendants of lynching victims, a documentary, photographs and an interactive map—provides further context for the art on display, Scher notes, including an interactive website co-produced with Google and a 2015 report (recently updated to include new findings) based on the group's multi-year investigation into lynchings in southern states.
Bryan Stevenson, founder and executive director of EJI, tells Newsweek’s Stav Ziv that he hopes the exhibit can foster more conversation about racial injustice, a topic that even today many Americans will not confront.
“We all live in communities where the evidence of this history of exclusion and bigotry and discrimination can still be seen. And our silence about the evidence of that history is what allows it to continue,” he tells Ziv.
Graphic photographs of victims or footage of actual lynchings are intentionally not included in the exhibit. Rather than focus on violent depictions of racial terror, “The Legacy of Lynching” chooses to employ individual narratives, such as video testimony provided by a lynching survivor’s grandson, who reads from a newspaper article about his family friend’s 1919 murder. “The artworks on view allude to trauma, loss and pain in non-explicit ways, offering personal, poetic and symbolic perspectives," assistant curator Sara Softness tells The Guardian’s Anna Furman.
The exhibition is starting a dialogue that EJI will continue—in 2018, the organization will open a memorial and accompanying museum in Montgomery, Alabama to honor victims of lynching and examine slavery in relation to mass incarceration.