The Lynch ProjectIt’s officially Black History Month and this means that across North America, we will hear the tried and true tales of many prominent children of the African Diaspora. There are, however, names that even the Black community to a large extent have forgotten. Perhaps it’s because some of these names reveal a history that at times seems too painful to confront, or perhaps it’s because we have invested so much in a gender based narrative of suffering that we have turned our back on the women who were lynched.

For far too long, race based violence is something that has been constructed as happening solely to Black men, though we know that women have been subjected to police violence, rape, and lynching. The names of these forgotten women have been glossed over to uplift Black masculinity, as the symbol of victimhood behind the crimes that we have suffered as a people, while black women have been constructed as ancillary victims through our relationships with Black men and boys.

Black life has always been cheap in a patriarchal white supremacist state but the lives of Black women have historically been universally devalued because, as women of colour, we occupy two marginalizations that interact to our detriment.

Lashawnda Crowe Storm is an Indianapolis artist and leader of The Lynch Quilt Project. Along with several other women, Lashawnda has taken a post card of the only surviving image to date of the lynching of a Black woman into a quilt.

“I took an actual lynching post card of the woman. Her name is Laura Nelson and she was murdered in Okemah, Oklahoma in 1911. We were able to take the postcard which probably only 4×6 and blow it up to an actual life size woman, cause it’s my perception that it’s very easy to digest something like this when it’s little and it’s manageable, and you put it in a little book, and you can put it somewhere and you can walk away from it. It’s very different when you encounter this. Here is a woman who I have made as close to my height as possible which is 5’8, and then it becomes a real woman. It changes the dialogue in many ways because then you have to focus on the fact that wow this is a woman and you can see in the photograph that she was married, so then what does that mean? Did she lose her family?”

As you might well imagine, this quilt has elicited a myriad of responses. Some feel that we should move past this horrible history and focus on the present, while others wonder how they would respond to the image of Laura Nelson if she was a white woman. This quilt elevates the life and death of Laura Nelson from obscurity. through the discomfort it causes to all who see it, or hear about it. The sad truth is that Mrs. Nelson was but one of many Black women who have been lynched. And this leaves me wondering who will give voice to their stories.

It’s been 102 years since the murder of Laura Nelson, and though lynching is no longer a common place practice, black women are still subject to violence on a daily basis because of our race and gender. Our blood has flowed and continues to flow like a river — as though it does not begin in a beating heart, nurtured by a passionate soul. We risk much — each time we demand to be heard and seen — but silence means that our shared pain, which is the legacy of the patriarchal white supremacist state that we have all been reared, will continue to be erased.

This Black history month, instead of repeating the names and achievements by rote of those we know, perhaps we should commit to searching for the stories that have been lost — because it is in this search that we will not only find truth, but ourselves. Someone has got to speak up for the nameless and the faceless and it is a task we dare not entrust to those whose agenda has been to cast us as second class citizens within a society that has benefitted and continues to benefit from our very marrow.

If we allow these stories to remain hidden, we send the message that these women do not matter, and by so doing, condemn ourselves to obscurity. The life of every Black woman means something. We must take this history of race and gender based oppression, and make it transformative, otherwise these women have died for nothing.

  • Worldly

    We shouldn’t forget the women who also lost their lives in some of the most despicable ways. I saw the post cards of lynching and a few included women, some even with their families. Terrible time in history but it’s our history and we shouldn’t forget it.

    Excellent entry.

  • Rue

    I remember the first time i saw the picture of her. It haunted me for weeks. Come ot think of it, it still does…

  • Blue

    I don’t need the visuals to remind me of that time period in history. No offense

  • march pisces

    i can’t post the link. go to youtube and search, “quilts and human rights, april shipp”. she did an awesome quilt, same theme.

  • march pisces

    google “strange fruit: a century of lynching” to see a picture.

  • Anthony

    Lynching photographs are pornographic in their violence, but they have to be shown because nothing else explains the level of violence to which African Americans were subjected to without impunity. This sister did a good thing by producing this image.

  • Kizzy

    I love quilting, but with different images. At the same time, I am actually glad to see this art being challenged with creative ideas. I think to display the lynching quilts in museums across the country would be a great idea. It’s a different form of art. I also think more people will appreciate it depending on their geographical location and age group. As for me, I prefer to keep the lynching images within the pages of my AA history books. My spirit is too sensitive to have a piece such as this visually displayed in my home. Overall, these ladies have done a superb job by creating another path to share our history.

    Thanks for sharing!

  • AnGe

    I think the power of these types of images is lost when you don’t follow it up with a purpose, a highlighting of a current issue, and a blueprint for how to fix said issue. Showing the horrors of the past is pointless unless you give it a point. I for one feel exhausted by rehashing the horrors of slavery. I feel powerless, I feel sick, and I get angry all over again. But angry at who? The people who have committed these crimes are dead and gone. There is no one left to punish and we can not save the loved ones we lost.

    So unless you are showing me exactly how this photo is going to get children out of gangs and into classrooms, encourage safe sex, encourage maintaining a two parent home, encourage going on to a college or trade school, encourage activism within our communities, and encourage the building and proper maintenance of our own business then I’m not really interested in just seeing yet more evidence that our history lined with horrible gross truths. I already knew that. What is the future looking like?

  • Me & my big heart

    I have never seen this image before. It sickens me, but also reminds me to treat those around me with love. We are lucky to be here, and have the freedom to choose how we live my life, and if lucky when we die. More so than she ever did.

  • Mademoiselle

    I see your point. Part of me wishes this image was a part of a larger exhibit that juxtaposes then and now. However, even if this world magically became utopic tomorrow, I’d still want this displayed as a reminder of how wretched we’re capable of being to one another if we allow ourselves to take our humanity for granted.

  • AygirlAygirl

    Good point. I feel the same way BUT maybe we’re not the audience she’s trying to reach. Still a lot of folks out there who haven’t recognized the horrors of enslavement and Jim Crow for whatever reason. This is for them.

    And this is for the women who were lynched. Gone but not forgotten.

  • Common Sense

    Although I hate to keep reliving the past, this is good for young people to see, because if we ignore the past, we are destined to relive it down the line in the future. It is also good for young people to see, so they know, where they have been and to strive to make things right in the future, because we all know that we are not finished. These images reinforces the notion that we need to take care of ourselves and stop begging others for something we can do for ourselves, because I believe our future generations can and will somehow get it right. Maybe seeing these images will spark something in young adults to stop killing each other and start working on making their lives meaningful, in their communities and in the world at large. We can only hope!!!!

  • ArabellaMichaela

    @ SMH
    Agree. Those who would forget the past are condemned to repeating it.
    That is why there’s a new Holocaust movie made practically every year and the Jewish people say “never again.”
    We have to be ever vigilant of these things, and we definitely should not shield our kids from this history, because a lot of people really haven’t changed that much.

  • AnGe

    And of course your reply and lack of effort to teach in a non judgement and insulting tone is incredibly helpful.

    Obviously racism still exists and you’re not going to shame it out of people. This quilt will not run the racists out of office because of their overwhelming guilt. The audience this is aimed towards, if there is one, is not going to all of sudden just now realize the things African American people went through once upon a time. There is enough going on currently that we should be holding the current perpetrators accountable for (ie Trayvon Martin’s case). But holding this quilt up to people who literally had no hand in the execution of the acts, in my opinion, is a waste of time. White people are not interested in being blamed or shamed for slavery and everything that came with it anymore.

    We have museums, movies, books, etc that have the history well documented. Why is the energy still being put into raising awareness of what I believe we’re aware of? Again, what’s the plan for the future?

  • Nikki

    This woman was lynched in Okemah, Oklahoma. I am from Oklahoma so this is a familiar story for me. Here is the story to read more about her: http://www.okgazette.com/oklahoma/article-11750-picture-of-horror.html. I am glad this story has not been lost and forgotten.

  • Cassia

    The picture alone even without reading the text was so moving. I so agree not to disrespect the greats but it would be interesting to hear about what our people went through that we are yet to hear about, and sometimes a picture needs no words, the picture by itself makes me feel cold.

  • Fantastico

    Thanks for the link!

  • Fantastico

    Wow. I’m so glad Mrs. Laura Nelson’s story is being told. I didn’t know of her until now.

    She was raped multiple times by her lyncher’s and hung hung by her teenaged son. It saddens me that this happened to her and so many other unnamed women, but I am glad her story is being told.

  • THE ALCHEMIST

    This photo is not the only surviving photo of a lynched woman:

    http://abagond.tumblr.com/post/42902211785/there-should-be-a-white-history-month-in-america

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