Find Events Find People Find Jobs Find Sites Find Help Index


May 6, 2002

Lynching photo exhibit opens with tributes

By Michael Terrazas


It happened during the recessional. From the chorale risers at the front of Ebenezer Baptist Church, the combined choirs of Ebenezer and Atlanta’s First Congregational Church were singing to close the interfaith service held to remember the lynching victims whose photographs hung in brutal memorial next door at the Martin Luther King Jr. National Historic Site.

The choirs’ voices rose, echoing off the walls of the sanctuary, and then, slowly, those gathered realized the song was coming not just from the choirs. The mouths of people seated in the pews were moving, joined by those of the ministers of different faiths who had led the 90-minute ecumenical service.

Then someone in the crowd stood. Another followed, then more, and still more, and suddenly, quite spontaenously, everyone in the church was standing and singing, continuing even after the ministers walked single file off the dais. When the last verse ended, another was hummed. Amen.

It was, perhaps, the most magical of a day filled with such moments.

“Without Sanctuary: Lynching Photography in America” is now open to the public at the Historic Site, and it was christened May 1 with a pair of events designed to eulogize the victims, pray for the perpetrators and provide hope for the descendants of both.

At noon, a crowd of a few hundred gathered in the Historic Site’s rose garden for a ceremony that officially opened the exhibit. On hand were Frank Catroppa, superintendent of the Historic Site (a unit of the National Parks Service), and President Bill Chace. Emory and the Historic Site are copresenters of the exhibit, which consists of photographs and other materials from the collection of James Allen and John Littlefield.

“As we learn and as we teach our learning, we at times must—if we are honest—confront the terrifying,” Chace said. “We must learn how at times people have behaved, how they very badly behaved. Our only comfort comes from our knowledge that people have not always behaved badly. That comfort can come from, among other places, the vision of the man whose body lies interred directly across the street from us today.”

Chace was far from the only speaker that day to invoke the name of Martin Luther King Jr., as the civil rights leader’s widow, Coretta Scott King, watched from the audience. Also speaking were exhibit curator Joseph Jordan and Emory religion Professor Thee Smith, who delivered the benediction. Iyalosa Omolewa Eniolorunopa, priestess of the Ile Ori Ifa Cultural Center, performed the invocation and a ceremonial “pouring of libations,” and the troupe Giwayen Mata performed a Senegalese dance.

But the highlight of the day occurred that evening in Ebenezer. The church’s new sanctuary, next door to the Historic Site and across the street from the original sanctuary whose pulpit was once occupied by King himself, played host to Atlanta ministers of the three Abrahamic faiths: the Rev. Joseph Roberts, senior minister at Ebenezer; Plemon El-Amin, imam of the Masjid of Al-Islam; Rabbi Alvin Sugarman, senior rabbi of The Temple; the Rev. C.T. Vivian, founder of the Center for Democratic Renewal; the Rev. Russell Richey, dean of the Candler School of Theology; the Rev. Bridgette Young, associate dean of the chapel and religious life at Emory; and the Rev. Dwight Andrews, senior pastor First Congregational and professor of music theory at Emory.

From Sugarman’s recitation of the Kaddish to Vivian’s and Richey’s joint litany of confession, the powerful moments were plenty, but perhaps most solemn was the reading of the names of the victims pictured in the exhibit by student interns at the Historic Site.

One by one, the students recited names, dates, locations and methods of execution, ranging across centuries and states, before closing with: “Four unidentified African American males. Circa 1920. Southeastern United States. Hanged.”

“Without Sanctuary” is free and open to the public and will run through the end of 2002. For more information, call 404-331-5190 or visit