During the short story “Big Boy Leaves Home” by Richard Wright, the title character and his friend Bobo are on the run after shooting the white man who killed two of their friends. As they run, Bobo says to Big Boy several times, “Theys gonna lynch us.”  In the end, Bobo is captured, tortured, and burned at the stake, although he is not lynched. This was, however, what passed for a justice system. No trial, no questions, simply the immediate demand for retribution.
Earlier this semester, the other second year students and I sat in our exhibition class and talked about different types of exhibits. Our professor showed us examples of some of the different styles, but the one that stuck with me the most was her example of a visual exhibit. She showed us a video presentation called Without Sanctuary that left all of the class shaken. The video, which has also been made into a book, shows postcards and photographs taken of lynching in the United States. It is an extremely graphic video, and it was something that I thought about several times after the class period was over. This week, the website that hosts the video was among our assigned readings, and again I find myself unable to forget it.
This is a video that needs to be watched. It is hard to think about our own past in a negative way. We constantly hear phrases like “back in the good old days” when people refer to the lives of their predecessors. And while we should not ignore the triumphs we have overcome, forgetting or neglecting the negative pieces of our past is a disservice that we cannot afford.
This weekend, I visited the African Burial Ground, a National Park Service site in New York City. The site is dedicated to memorializing the African Americans who were laid to rest in the 6.6 acre burial ground.  To me, the site was all about memory, in spite of the fact that we do not know the names of any of the people buried there. The outdoor portion of the site, the memorial, is a beautiful and reflective space that still recalls the difficulties Africans faced in America. A map on the ground recalls the triangular trade system, and does an excellent job of including not only Africa but the Caribbean as well. To me, the most poignant part of the site was mounds marking the re-interred remains. Sitting on each mound were gifts left to honor those buried there; seashells, birds of paradise, and incense. Although we do not know the names of those the individuals that rest beneath those mounds, people still take the time to honor their memory.
We cannot forget. The lynching photos are grotesque, hard to stomach, and painful. But the victims of lynching are just as important, just as in need of memorializing as those who died and were buried in New York City. Forgetting, or neglecting to remember, simply because it is distasteful to discuss, makes us easy prey to erase what has happened, and puts us at greater risk for repeating the negative lessons that history has already taught us.
 Wright, Richard. “Big Boy Leaves Home” in Uncle Tom’s Children. New York: Harper Collins, 2009.
 National Park Service. “African Burial Ground.” http://www.nps.gov/afbg/index.htm. Accessed February 14, 2012.