Without Sanctuary: Lynching Photography in America
In a spirit of reverence and remembrance, Levine Museum of the New South presented Without Sanctuary: Lynching Photography in America, a graphic exhibit that examined one of the most horrific chapters of American history, and one that continues to influence society today.
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 stirred strong feelings. Levine Museum's mission in bringing this exhibit to Charlotte was 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.
While opening the exhibit during a contentious election season, Levine Museum hoped that visitors would 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 contained 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.
Without Sanctuary: Lynching Photography in America was 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 was the final location for Without Sanctuary as a traveling exhibit. Upon closing in Charlotte, it was installed as a permanent exhibit at the new National Center for Civil and Human Rights in Atlanta.