State Sanctioned

A clearinghouse for information, analysis, and resources related to state sanctioned violence in the United States

Why There are No Photos of Lynching Here

As a historian of lynching, I’ve seen my share of images of lynching, and I’ve read a lot of impressive scholarship that analyzes such images. I am also aware of powerful artwork, traveling exhibits, and photo-books, which feature images of lynchings and use these images as part of a conscious strategy to raise public awareness of lynching. My decision not to include lynching photographs on this website should not be interpreted as a blanket condemnation of such images. There are other circumstances (in teaching a course on lynching, for example) where including photos and other images would be appropriate or even essential.

That said, I am also cognizant of the dual role that images of lynching have played. On the one hand, these images were circulated by anti-lynching organizations to create shock and horror in a broader American audience that was otherwise painfully disinterested in the plight of black Americans.  On the other hand, the people who actually produced these images were usually participants in the lynching, or excited onlookers. Photos were taken as souvenirs, and circulated proudly by whites who celebrated their successful apprehension and execution of an alleged criminal.  Thus, to view these images of lynching is to be drawn in from the perspective of a spectator, a voyeur, and/or a perpetrator.

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