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September 23, 2002

Conference explores legacy of lynching

By Eric Rangus

In conjunction with the affecting and critically lauded photography exhibit currently on display at the Martin Luther King Jr. National Historic Site, Emory will host the wide-ranging conference, “Lynching and Racial Violence in America: Histories and Legacies,” Oct. 3–6.

The conference will bring more than 90 academics and historians from around the world to the University for a conversation from many angles about lynching in the United States and how that unpleasant period in the country’s history can still influence racial relations today.

The conference is the largest to take place at Emory since the Reconciliation Symposium of January 2001, and in some ways that gathering helped make “Lynching and Racial Violence” possible.

“This whole series of presentations is part of the what was seeded by the Reconciliation Symposium,” said Jody Usher, assistant to the president for special projects and one of three staff members who worked with the conference organization committee. That 10-person committee—led by Rudolph Byrd, associate professor of American studies—worked for a year to put the conference together. (Click here for Byrd's perspective.)

Most of the events will be held in the Emory Conference Center Hotel, but one panel will journey to the King Center, Oct. 4 at 4 p.m. for a viewing of the “Without Sanctuary” exhibition, followed by a critique at Ebenezer Baptist Church. Included among the respondents at that event will be James Allen, whose photo collection makes up the core of the King Center exhibit.

Shuttles will be running to the King Center the afternoon of Oct. 3, as well, just prior to the official opening of the conference that evening. There, visitors will be able to view the photographs as well as screenings of the films Ida B. Wells: A Passion for Justice and Strange Fruit.

Delivering the keynote address at 8 p.m., Oct. 3, in WHSCAB auditorium will be David Levering Lewis, Martin Luther King Jr. University Professor in the history department of Rutgers University. Lewis is a two-time Pulitzer Prize winner, having received the award for both volumes of a biographical series he wrote on W.E.B. DuBois. A book-signing will follow the address.

“It’s been exciting receiving feedback from the scholars, many of whom work in isolation,” Usher said. “The sense of community among people who do this work is amazing to me.”
In tandem with the conference, Druid Hills Bookstore will be holding a special sale of books written by conference presenters.

A total of 25 panel discussions are spread out over the weekend. Most are specifically geared toward lynching, but many address the wider issue of race in general.

Several Emory faculty members are participating: Leslie Harris, associate professor of history will chair “The Gendered Politics of Lynching”; Abdullahi An-Na’im, Charles Howard Candler Professor of Law will chair “International Perspectives on Lynching and Genocide”; Leroy Davis, associate professor of history, will chair “Racial Violence Outside the South”; Lawrence Jackson, assistant professor of English, will chair “Artistic Responses to Lynching and Racial Violence”; and James Roark, Samuel Candler Dobbs Professor of History, will chair “Southern Lynching: Case Studies.”

The conference includes more than panel discussions or speeches. On Saturday, Oct. 5, at 8 p.m. in Cannon Chapel, a theater performance called “Lynch P*in” will be presented.

The concept by Yvonne Singh, visiting professor of theater studies and African American studies, is a multimedia presentation that will incorporate film, video and stage performance to tell the story of the exhibit.

To close the weekend, on Oct. 6 at 11 a.m. Bishop Margaret Kässmann of the Lutheran Church of Hanover, Germany will lead an interfaith service.

Including presenters, between 200–400 attendees are expected for the conference. While some events (such as the keynote speech and the arts presentations) are open to the public, registration is required for the panels. Fees are $60 per person and $15 for students with a valid ID, and registration will be accepted throughout the weekend.

For more information and to view the complete conference schedule, visit its website at