The rise of the Klu Klux Klan, founded in 1865, would usher in domestic terrorism and violence towards African Americans living in the south and elsewhere in the United States. Between 1882 and 1964 over 4,000 people were lynched in the United States. Most of the lynchings took place in the deep south, most of the mobs were white and 72 percent of the victims were Black. My grandmother would tell me the story of her great uncle, Weldon Boylan, who she says was lynched for owning land in Tennessee.
Every time I took out the photo she would tell me the story, “They lynched Uncle Weldon because his father left him land.”
She never gave me the ugly details but she made sure I knew it existed. It wouldn’t be until I saw the Without Sanctuary: Lynching in America exhibit at the Levine Museum of the New South in Charlotte, North Carolina in 2012 that I understood the gravity of the type of hatred and violence my family experienced and witnessed living in the South.
James Allen, an antique collector, had collected over 100 postcards and photos of lynchings in America. Allen was interviewed on CSPAN in 2005 to talk about his book Without Sanctuary: Lynching in America. He defines lynching as a community sanctioned killing, where victims were hung either before or after they had been murdered, mutilated and sometimes burned. He also says that photography offers irrefutable proof of this history. This is especially important because it is not taught in our schools or discussed in many American History courses in primary and secondary education, and since this history has been hidden and the crimes covered up.
Allen says, “Usually there is some sort of allegation or breaking with convention, like looking back at a white woman, not stepping off the sidewalk, the African American person was manifesting business smarts, making money, buying land and threatening the status of whites.”
Glen Burkins, publisher of Qcity Metro, an online local newspaper partnered with the Levine Museum of the New South to sponsor a viewing of the exhibit for Qcity Metro readers. My friend Charles Easley and I pitched an idea to document the experience of the participants through video for Qcity Metro.
The Tuskegee Institute records the lynchings 3,436 blacks between the years of 1882-1950. Although these numbers are recorded there are thousands of more that went unreported. It would take over twenty years, obtaining a bachelors and masters degree before I understood what my grandmother meant when she said the word lynched.