This project is designed to approach lynching as an act of domestic terrorism and explore its social and historical consequences. We feel that we have a moral obligation to gain knowledge about these terrors and make sure they are not forgotten. Through the engagement and curation of archival material, we aim to honor the victims, families, friends, and communities affected by its legacy, while avoiding archival strategies that would recreate or compound the trauma of lynching. Although the material we are working with may evoke pain and horror, this project overall seeks to preserve something we should not allow ourselves to forget.
As a means to this end we hope to make our local archives accessible to a more general public. Our project aims to inspire other students, teachers, learners, and citizens with a web-based, accessible exhibit that takes history out of textbooks and into more collaborative spheres. This is of special interest to us as graduates students at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill where school administration has demonstrated unwavering commitment to memorializing racist iconography that affects the lives of black and brown students and faculty. This perspective will help contextualize our work as part of a larger project, which makes the history of lynching more legible in the context of contemporary racial violence.
We thank Wilson Library Special Collections (including the Rare Book Collection, the Southern Historical Collection, and North Carolina Collection), as well as the Ackland Art Museum and Guilford College for continued assistance in accessing and procuring our archival materials. We also wish to thank the many scholars who took the time to speak to our class or assist us in our archival work.
This site has a variety of potential uses for a number of different audiences. Although most members of the general public could benefit from engaging with these materials, we believe that educators of middle school students through instructors at the college level can use these exhibits as “teaching aids,” offering valuable historical information and context for courses that address not only issues of racism or violence but also questions of representation and transmission of cultural knowledge. Additionally, we hope this site can serve as a thoughtful and informative resource for people whose families have been affected by and continue to be affected by the kinds of events represented and discussed within these exhibits. Although we acknowledge that these exhibits focus on past narratives of racial violence, we hope they will also inspire conversations about racial struggles we continue to face in our society today. As such, we understand that this project is by no means exhaustive, and we hope that by highlighting certain archival materials we can connect researchers with resources for further investigation. Ultimately, we hope this site serves as a catalyst for continued discussion, reflection, and study of this topic, which is a part of our national and cultural identity that must be confronted and reexamined.
We are graduate students at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in the class English 762 “America’s Strange Fruit: Lynching in Literature and Culture,” a course dedicated to considerations of the phenomenon of lynching and how the digital humanities can help to re-orient these considerations. We are led by Dr. Danielle Christmas, an Assistant Professor in the Department of English. This project seeks to connect the archives of the Louis Round Wilson Library and the Ackland Art Museum to analyze lynching’s representations. We aim through our project to present a material history of lynching and historical racial violence through archival research at the Wilson as well as an analysis of visual representations of lynching through art and artistic representations from the Ackland. These exhibits’ aims are to collect historical representations of lynching; arrange them in a way that provokes conversation; relate them to their historical contexts and to the experiences and the people they represent or speak of; and describe their importance to a contemporary conception of lynching’s deeply-embedded and violent history within American historical thought. These exhibits come from our dedication not only to the items that we have curated but also to enlightening audiences about the multiple and often troubling representations of lynching as they manifested throughout history; that being said, much research has gone into respectfully representing and writing on these differing items and exhibits. We hope as a group to make our unique contributions to these items and to the historical representations of lynching.
The students who have curated this exhibit are Paul Blom, Anna Broadwell-Gulde, Tyler Bunzey, Matthew Duncan, Ina Falkeid, Martin Groff, Chloe Hamer, Rhagen Olinde, Hannah Skjellum, and Jada Weathers.
Documentary Archive Collection:
This collection examines archival material ranging from the late nineteenth to the mid-twentieth centuries, housed primarily in the Southern Historical, Rare Book, and North Carolina collections of the Louis Round Wilson Archives. Our materials come from all over the American South, with an epicenter in North Carolina, which localizes our research while also examining broader contexts. This collection includes media such as letters, newspapers, photography, and personal correspondence and records. We came to the physical archive with a series of individual questions and began by surveying Wilson’s large collection broadly, eventually selecting items that were of particular personal interest. Our process involved transcription, analysis, and digitization through photography and scanning. These digitized items represent only a fraction of what has been collected in Wilson’s various archives. To visit the Documentary Archive Collection, click here.
Visual Art Collection:
In the Visual Art Collection, we focus on artworks found in the Ackland Art Museum at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. We explore how certain images represent lynching and the different meanings and associations these representations evoke. We engage in a form of visual rhetorical analysis in which we attend to each image’s formal features as well as its manifest content. The primary sources we examine include photographs, paintings, and prints. Through our analyses and exhibitions, we attempt to continue the work begun with the Documentary Archive Exhibit by adding another artistic dimension to our investigations. Aside from the formal features and content of the artwork, we also explore the pieces’ authors, sociohistorical milieu, and provenance. Moreover, we hope to draw parallels between these artistic representations of lynching and the literary representations we have explored in class. To visit the Visual Art Collection, click here.