Last week’s discussion about how to tell the history of lynching in museums was a difficult one for me to conceptualize. I must admit, I could not even look through the grotesque exhibition content on the Without Sanctuary website because it upsets me to have to witness this tragic part of African American history. In fact, I have gone back and forth on whether or not I should even write a class reflection post about the subject matter because I am not certain about my opinions on the best way to present the story of lynching in museums.
The practice of lynching, as not only an atrocious, but well-documented, extralegal punishment has weighed heavily on me. I have seen such horrid lynching images throughout my life, that I think perhaps I’ve grown weary of the subject matter. The images of nameless victims strung up on trees will forever be imprinted in my brain.
Last semester in Introduction to Museums, our class discussed the Jim Crow Museum of Racist Memorabilia in Big Rapids, Michigan. In one of the rooms in this museum, there is a full sized replica of a tree with a lynching noose hanging from it. As a class, we debated the impact of such an exhibition on various types of audiences. Some of my peers thought such a realistic interpretation could be helpful to many people. I agree that it would be beneficial to some people, but I can’t help but wonder if it would hurt some people along the way.
From my perspective, I cannot fathom myself as a young black girl learning about the lynching of my ancestors in such a public and humiliating way. I think the lynch tree at the Jim Crow Museum of Racist Memorabilia and the Without Sanctuary Exhibition would have been very difficult for me to handle in a museum group setting.
As a child, my parents educated me about America’s horrific racial past in the privacy and security of our home. This idea of the intimacy of death is one that we discussed in class last week, and has me ruminating about how to tell the history of lynching in a museum setting.
Upon finishing my studies at CGP, I want to create educational outreach programs for inner-city and disadvantaged youth of color. The history of lynching is one that certainly needs to be told to such a demographic, but I wonder if in an open and exposed museum setting would be the best way to go about it. Would poor black boys gain a positive experience and image of self from seeing thousands of photos of people just like them mutilated and dangling from trees? Right now, I honestly don’t know my position on this, and would love to her everyone’s thoughts.
So my questions to you all are: How would you present an exhibition on lynching? Would your exhibition change based on the audience that your museum serves? Why or why not? How would you use such a museum exhibition to teach children? (image from http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/1742441.Lynching_Photographs)