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Reflections on "Without Sanctuary: Photos and Postcards of Lynching in America"

posted Oct 29, 2017, 5:49 PM by Leslie Austin   [ updated Jan 28, 2018, 2:49 PM by Daniel Pieczkolon ]
When I think of Halloween, I think of all the black bodies hung from trees in the dark night as wind ruffled leaves weep for Justice. The black man, his children and his wife ask for Mercy, but he dies. In front of the silent eyes and cold hearts of European American men, women and children: his body swings, they cut it down to cut off his head and place it on a stick. I wish in my mind, human eyes didn’t stare back at me. I hope on the night of fright when everyone’s dressed in black: his soul, a shimmering blue black, will come to me and parade its beauty on the one day they find his color acceptable. I pray even then, that he isn’t shot dead in the street by some cop, who thinks he is a threat, to meet his death a second time. He doesn’t care for himself though, his time to reflect on the small beauties his life did hold, like the innocence alight in his children's eyes and times spent with his wife allows his soul to be uncorrupted. He said the tolls of true liberty were great, but with forgiveness to those who wronged him, he had finally achieved it. Yet, me I had to worry. The corruptive flesh, which weighed all my fellow humans, left me vulnerable and for my safety he didn’t want us to be seen together. I try to tell him that times are better now, but he looks at me and that lie becomes apparent. His physical body appears then, the holes in his chest from bullets inflicted postmortem, the missing arm taken as a souvenir and the burnt ear and eye on the side of his head that was thrown in the fire first, almost make me cry. Yet, he grabs me and says that we must remain strong, for he knew all too well that Evil has a lot of places to hide.

Grimly, I account for the fact that no one is dressed as Thomas Jefferson tonight. The President, whose name stands on many of our institutions, is famed for how he tamed the American government and not his racist arguments against African art. Jefferson scares me, I see the spread of his ideologies and cringe, when they question my right to say how I feel, the way I would like to say it. Society tells me not to dwell. Yet, I refuse to forget: Clyde Johnson, William Brooks, John Holmes, Lee Hall, Jesse Washington, Nease Gillepsie, John Gillepsie, "Jack" Dillingham, Henry Lee, and George Irwin and others (Adams). To the black spirits, who haven’t left to be with the Lord, I say dwell in our hearts, change our perceptions and take your time to tell your stories, we hear you. May all the black bodies under oppression in past and present be set free by the truth of our collective US American history.


Adams, James, and John Littlefield. Journal E: Without Sanctuary: Lynching Photography in America, Twin Palms Publishers,