March 19, 2001
By Michael Terrazas email@example.com
After an extensive opinion-gathering effort not only within the University but in the Atlanta community, President Bill Chace has decided that Emory will in fact sponsor an exhibition of graphic lynching photographs and postcards sometime in 2002.
The exhibit, comprising images from the Atlanta collections of James
Allen and John Littlefield, posed a difficult problem for the University.
To help find a solution, Chace appointed a committee of faculty, students
and staff to hold public forums so people could air their opinions. The
committee made is recommendation in December, and Chace announced his
decision just before Spring Break.
I thought [the recommendation] was so reasonably argued that it
wasnt a difficult decision, said Chace, who admitted hed
hoped all along that Emory could take part in this exhibit.
But while the presidents final decision was easy, chair Thee Smith
said the committees deliberations were anything but. It was
agonizing, said Smith, associate professor of religion. We
were conflicted. There were some sobering concerns that this would deteriorate
into voyeurism of some sort, or that it would provoke increased antagonism
as opposed to purging antagonism. And also that Emory as institutionor
any American universitywould not have the skill or cultural competence
to do this right.
In the end, however, Smith said the opportunity to make a national and
very real step forward in race relations by sponsoring the exhibit was
simply too great to pass up.
What weve done so well here in the United States, and particularly
in Atlanta, is bypass all of that history on the assumption that were
a new generation and we can just start over again with new civil rights
legislation and new attitudes, Smith said. Were discovering
that does not work with historically entrenched evil. It will just stay
under the surface and continue to fester and disrupt our relationships
unless we actually go through it.
Not many details have been worked out for the exhibit, and it may not
even take place on the Emory campus. But the University will be one of
if not the major sponsor, and Smith said the committee recommended that
Chace form another groupone made up of museum curators, educational
specialists, historical experts and othersto begin work on what
form the exhibit will take.
Expanding on a previous exhibit of the images that took place last year
in New York to great acclaim, the Atlanta effort will provide substantial
accompanying materials to allow viewers to place the often horrifying
images in their proper context. Included will be information on the history
of lynching in the United States, as well as archival materials on anti-lynching
movements in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
Many of the images were printed in Without Sanctuary: Lynching Photography
in America, published last year by Twin Palms Publishing.
These images make the past present, The New York Times wrote of the book. They refute the notion that photographs of charged historical subjects lose their power, softening and becoming increasingly aesthetic with time. These images are not going softly into any artistic realm. Instead they send shock waves through the brain, implicating ever larger chunks of American society and in many ways reaching up to the present.