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“An Art Commentary on Lynching” depicts terrorism and fear in the Deep South

December 18, 2015

Out of the archives comes the supplemental guide to a very unusual art exhibition. "An Art Commentary on Lynching," which was on display From February 15 to March 2, 1935 at the Arthur U. Newton Galleries in New York City. “An Art Commentary on Lynching” brings to life a very dark period in U.S. History. Stories of the terror of mobs intimidating, harassing, and savagely killing African Americans are haunting, almost unreal. For those who attended the exhibition, the depictions displayed were shocking reminders of the reality of life for African Americans in the Deep South.


The commentary included in the catalog booklet pushes the conversation on such an uncomfortable topic, in particular, by asking how a community can consider itself civilized when it engages in the torture, mutilation, and murder of another individual. Erksine Caldwell touched on this question saying, “Social deterioration is the payment extracted for a lynching. The community surrounding a lynching scene loses all trace of progress and civilization. The children practice brutality just as if they were learning to fish or hunt.”


Among the 38 artists who were featured in the exhibition, one piece of art that stood out was Reginald Marsh's drawing, This is her First Lynching. Marsh, a cartoonist for the New Yorker, showed the lynching as entertainment from the perspective of a mother gleefully lifting her daughter up to view the torture and murder of an imagined man (who is not shown in the drawing). This exhibition was one of the first instances an art gallery in New York City hosted a show with a theme surrounding African Africans. It served two major causes when it was displayed – it brought to the attention of many people that lynching is an existing condition, and it raised the questions of what must be done to stop it.

 

Artist Hale Woodruff, who contributed two pieces to “An Art Commentary on Lynching,” donated the exhibition catalog to the Amistad Research Center as part of his papers.

 

Image from the Hale Woodruff Papers.

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