The exhibit comes from a collection of photographs, postcards and memorabilia owned by the National Center for Civil and Human Rights in Atlanta.
Without Sanctuary: Lynching Photography in America
In a spirit of reverence and remembrance, Levine Museum of the New South will present Without Sanctuary: Lynching Photography in America, a graphic exhibit that examines one of the most horrific chapters of American history, and one that continues to influence society today. The exhibit will open to the public on Sept. 29, 2012 and remain on display through Dec. 31, 2012.
With nearly 5,000 people executed between 1882 to 1968, Without Sanctuary is a collection of photographs and postcards documenting dozens of hangings and other killings carried out by lynch mobs in what often became community events, drawing all ages and classes of people to witness – even celebrate – this brutal violence.
While lynching occurred throughout history and across America, most of the victims during this period were African American men and boys, and most of the lynchings took place in the South – including North Carolina and the Charlotte region.
Without Sanctuary stirs strong feelings. Levine Museum's mission in bringing this exhibit to Charlotte is to recognize the humanity of those who were executed, to educate visitors and acknowledge that these atrocities indeed took place, and to promote cross-cultural discussion that can bring healing and vigilance against future acts of bigotry and violence.
"Without Sanctuary certainly portrays one of the darkest, most painful chapters in southern and American history," said museum President Emily Zimmern. "Our intent is not to dwell on this chapter, but to provide people a chance to learn and remember, and to feel empowered to stand up against bigotry and atrocity in the future. We hope visitors will view the exhibit without blame or guilt, and ask themselves: Who among us is without sanctuary today?"
While opening the exhibit during a contentious election season, Levine Museum hopes that visitors will follow the example of U.S. Senators George Allen (R-VA) and Mary Landrieu (D-LA). Motivated after reading the book Without Sanctuary, they worked together in 2005 to secure passage of Senate Resolution 39. The historic apology to lynching victims and their families for the Senate's failure to enact federal anti-lynching legislation during the first part of the 20th century stated: "The Senate...remembers the history of lynching, to ensure that these tragedies will be neither forgotten nor repeated."
Preparations for hosting the exhibit began in early spring as the museum organized a series of listening sessions with community members. These sessions provided candid reactions and input on the topic, and sparked ideas for how the museum could make the exhibit experience most beneficial to the community. In April, Georgette Norman, director of the Rosa Parks Museum in Montgomery, Ala. led workshops for museum board and staff members. Feedback and responses from these sessions guided the museum's exhibit, program and partnership planning.
The exhibit installation at Levine Museum will contain approximately 70 images from a larger collection created by American antique collector James Allen, who spent more than 25 years gathering photographs and postcards taken as souvenirs at lynchings throughout America.
A new section created by Levine Museum historian Dr. Tom Hanchett brings lynching history home. Titled "It Happened Here: Carolina Lynchings," the exhibit panels note the more than 260 documented lynchings that occurred in North and South Carolina. Three lynchings will be explored in depth: Those at Poplar Tent, N.C. (1898), Lake City, S.C. (1898) and Salisbury, N.C. (1906). The Salisbury killing is documented in the book Troubled Ground by historian Dr. Claude Clegg III, who will be the featured speaker in a national symposium on lynching history presented Oct. 11 -12 at UNC Charlotte.
Throughout Levine Museum's installation of the exhibit, visitors will encounter questions crafted by the museum's education and exhibit team, designed to help visitors process and reflect on the images and information. In addition, the exhibit will include interactive experiences to further engage visitors and provide opportunities to respond, such as note boards and a ballot box where visitors can vote Yes or No in response to the question of whether they believe a lynching could occur today. Near the end of the exhibit, an interactive piece created in partnership with local artist John Love presents a positive call to action. Titled Bound in Yes, the artist poses the question, “What is Your Yes?” inviting visitors to share an inspiration or affirmation, and tie it to a rocking chair.
Without Sanctuary: Lynching Photography in America is organized by the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center through the ownership of the National Center for Civil and Human Rights. The images and postcards have previously been exhibited in New York City, Pittsburgh, Detroit, Chicago, Atlanta, Jackson, Miss., and most recently, Cincinnati, at the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center. The installation at Levine Museum will be the final location for Without Sanctuary as a traveling exhibit. Upon closing in Charlotte, it will be installed as a permanent exhibit at the new National Center for Civil and Human Rights in Atlanta.
Support for the exhibit at Levine Museum comes from presenting sponsor Bank of America, a grant from the Arts & Science Council, and additional contributions from community members.