Without Sanctuary: Lynching Photography in America

This is an exhibition that actually took place last month at Rivington Place but the collection has now been digitised for online viewing. A very macabre and grim experience but well worth taking a look at to see the results of mob rule. Memorabilia collector, James Allen was rummaging through old archives one day when he came across something deeply disturbing – a postcard from an American lynching scene. Wondering who would take such an image, and why they would then send them to family and friends he began to investigate and slowly collect these images. The resulting collection was then exhibited in 2000 at the New York Historical Society, and was shown for the first time in the UK last month. The victims of lynching parties came from a wide variety of backgrounds but most were African American, and it’s estimated that as many as 4,000 were killed between 1882 and 1968. Their mutilated bodies were photographed and turned into mass-produced postcards that became a form of community entertainment.

The images are now owned by the National Center for Civil and Human Rights in America, which is part of the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center. While the photographs are uneasy viewing for most, the National Center for Civil and Human Rights has said that “although many would probably prefer to forget this chapter of American history, for African Americans and others, the decades-long nightmare of lynching – and continuing incidents of threatened violence and intimidation today – are all-too-real reminders that only a thin line separates the rule of law and guarantees of civil and human rights from lawless mob psychosis”. The photographs serve as a stark reminder of America’s dark past and visual legacy of a horrific form of racial violence. You can view the images by clicking on the Without Sanctuary site and selecting photos.

Image above: The lynching of Thomas Shipp and Abram Smith, Marion, Indiana, 07 August, 1930, from the National Center for Civil and Human Rights, USA. [Please note the above image has been cropped for sensitive reasons, the men’s faces during their death throes has been cut out]