It happened during the recessional. From the chorale risers at
the front of Ebenezer Baptist Church, the combined choirs of Ebenezer
and Atlantas 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
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 Sites
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 mustif
we are honestconfront 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 leaders 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 churchs 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 Sugarmans recitation of the Kaddish to Vivians
and Richeys 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
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 www.emory.edu/WithoutSanctuaryExhibit/.