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Without Sanctuary: Lynching Photography in America

Without Sanctuary: Lynching Photography in America

4.9 12
by James Allen, Hilton Als, John Lewis (Foreword by), Leon F. Litwack

The Tuskegee Institute records the lynching of 4,742 blacks between 1882 and 1968. This is probably a small percentage of these murders, which were seldom reported, and led to the creation of the NAACP in 1909. Through all this terror and carnage, someone- many times a professional photographer- carried a camera and took pictures of the events. These lynching


The Tuskegee Institute records the lynching of 4,742 blacks between 1882 and 1968. This is probably a small percentage of these murders, which were seldom reported, and led to the creation of the NAACP in 1909. Through all this terror and carnage, someone- many times a professional photographer- carried a camera and took pictures of the events. These lynching photographs were often made into postcards and sold as souvenirs to the crowds in attendance. Historians have also detailed the carnival atmosphere and the social ritual of a lynching, which was often announced in advance and drew thousands of people from the surrounding area. Most disturbing is the sight of the white people, looking straight at the camera as if they had nothing to be ashamed of, often smiling.

These images are some of photography's most brutal, surviving to this day so that we may now look back upon the carnage and perhaps know our history and ourselves better. The almost one hundred images reproduced here are a testament to the camera's ability to make us remember what we often choose to forget.

Editorial Reviews

These pictures are shocking visual testimony to the unspeakable ferocity of violence against blacks in this country in the not-too-distant past. The photos are part of the Allen/Littlefield Collection and are on deposit in the Special Collections Department, Robert W. Woodruff Library, Emory University. James Allen provides notes on the content and context of the photos; Congressman John Lewis provides a foreword; writers Leon F. Litwack and Hilton Als contribute commentary. Annotation c. Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (booknews.com)
Benjamin Schwarz
Without Sanctuary is a collection of 98 photographs of lynchings throughout America, culled from the archive of James Allen who, as an antique dealer, came across them in his travels. It is a strange and terrifying book.
Many of these photographs were taken to be sold as souvenir postcards, but people also collected even more grisly keepsakes—fingers, toes and ears—from lynching victims, including sexual organs from those who had been alleged rapists. South Carolina Gov. Cole Blease recerived a finger of a lynched black man in the mail and promptly planted it in the gubernatorial garden. In Salisbury, N.C., a little old white lady, brought to see the bodies of several alleged black axe murderers, opened her purse, took out a knife and cut off a finger from one of their hands. Wordlessly, she put the knife and finger in her purse and walked away. Often there were scores, if not hundreds and sometimes thousands of spectators at a lynching. Far from an archaic holdover, Southern lunching was in many ways intertwined with and exacerbated by modern technology. Railroads sometimes ran special excursion trains to the sites; often spectators took photos—and also made sound recordings; the towns and counties in which lynchings took place usually had newpapers, telegraph offices and sometimes even radio stations that broadcast the killings, thereby expanding and intensifying the power of lynching in the white and black Southern psyche...Looking at the photographs of the broken, burned and mutilated victims in Without Sanctuary—some of whom, themselves, may have committed atrocious crimes—the terrible truth, the only "explanation" of lynching, is that given half a chance, too many men will act brutally.
Los Angeles Times
Michel Marriott
It is a photograph washed in sepia tones that lend its scene—the 1930 lynching of Tommy Shipp and Abe Smith and an approving white mob—an otherwordliness. Perhaps it was my father who first showed it to me. Yet, growing up black in Kentucky, with its not-so-distant past of lynching and other violent expressions of racism, I knew that this picture depicted a hatred tha was embedded in my country. This lynching occurred in Marion, Ind., 24 years before I was born, but that gave me little comfort as a boy.
I recently visited the Roth Horowitz Gallery in New York City to gaze again at that photograph, and 59 other images of lethal brutality meeted out to blacks by the vigilante's noose. For weeks thousands of visitors have crowded in for a glimpse of a dimly lit chapter of American history. The exhibition, titled "Witness," documents lynchings from 1883 through 1960, mostly from the collection of James E. Allen and John Littlefield...The memory of lynching brings America face to face with "our problematic history with due process and the rule of law," said William Kornblum, sociologist at the City University of New York's graduate school, "Even today we can't face part of it."
The faces of white men, women and children gathered at these scenes express a certain satisfaction. What is more chilling is tha unmistakable air of celebration, evil posed as righteousness.
—The New York Times
Richard Lacayo
You probably think murder is something to be ashamed of. But you weren't part of the crowd that gathered after the lynching in 1915 of Thomas Brooks in Fayette County, Tenn. "Hundreds of Kodaks clicked all morning at the scene," an observer wrote later in the Crisis, the publication of the N.A.A.C.P. "People in automobiles and carriages came from miles around to view the corpse dangling from the end of a rope. Picture-card photographers installed a portable printing press at the bridge." Lynching was a form of terror, which is murder with a message to send...It took a number of years to decide to collect pictures like this," says James Allen. "They're too painful to look at. But once you've seen these, you can't talk about race without factoring in the reality of what African Americans really went through."...These are pictures that have drifted back to us like bodies dumped in a river...There were lynchings in the Midwestern and Western states, mostly of Asians, Mexicans, Native Americans and even whites. But it was in the South that lynching evolved into a semiofficial institution of racial terror against blacks. All across the former Confederacy, blacks who were suspected of crimes against whites—or even "offenses" no greater than failing to step aside for a white man's car or protesting a lynching—were tortured, hanged and burned to death by the thousands...Without Sanctuary is a great and terrible book. It's an album of peacetime atrocities, during which hundreds of Kodaks clicked.
Time Magazine
Roberta Smith
The photographs that go on view tomorrow at Roth Horowitz, a gallery on the Upper East Side, may never fit comfortably in the history of art, or for that matter, of photography. This is because they are so deeply embedded in the history of hatred, specifically the American history of hatred, which is often a matter of race. They manifest this hatred shockingly, remorselessly, tragically.
The 60 photographs are of American lynchings that took place between 1883 and 1960, mostly, but not always in the South. Most of them were taken by professional photographers immediately or a short while after the lynching, sometimes during. All but a few of the victims were African-American men and women.
These images have been collected over the past decade by James Allen, and antiques dealer from Atlanta, along with related material like anti-lynching pamphlets and newspaper reprts, which are also on display. Everything in the show is from the Allen-Littlefield Colleciton, on depsit in the special collections department of the Robert. W. Woodruff Library at Emory University. The show was initiated by Andrew Roth when he learned that Twin Palms Publishers was planning a book about the Allen-Littlefield collection. A book published this month, Without Sanctuary: Lynching Photography in America reproduces 98 images from the collection, with essays by the Georgia congressman John Lewis, the historian Leon F. Litwack, the writer Hilton Als and Mr. Allen, who has annotated each image. Although this material has been available to scholars for two years, this is the first time any of it has been exhibited.
These images, most of which are postcard-size, are incendiary; they will burn a hole in your heart. They depict the lifeless forms of black men and women hanging from trees, bridges, from telegraph poles, often tortured or mutilated. They depict charred corpses held aloft like banners and relatively intact ones arranged like hunting trophies.
The New York Times

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Twin Palm Publishers
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Without Sanctuary: Lynching Photography in America 4.9 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 12 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I have to say this is truly a horrifying book, because it isn't made up or staged, there are almost 100 plates and they are real photographs from our history. and as horrifying as the pictures are, i think the plate descriptions of the circumstances are even more horrifying. this is a very important book, and one you definately should have. the other thing i have to say about this book is the cover design: it's excellent for the subject matter. a plain black cover, with a narrow strip, only slightly larger than the hanging man, set off to the right.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Seeing the exhibit in New York, I was compelled to buy this book. Reading it was even more shocking, many event had no pictures to go with it. I just can't comprehend how people can be so brutal to another. {or it was easy, because we was not consider to be human} I read this book with tears in my eyes. The most haunting parts to me was, the baby who's head was crushed, after been cut from it's mothers womb. And the little boy and his mother hanging from the bridge. (I think of my own hildren.) What distruction of human lives, what suffering, what pain, what cries. I think of the fear in their eyes, the pounding of their hearts, the tremor in their voices, the aching of their flesh, the oozing of their blood, the losing of their sight, the burning of their flesh and the jeers from the crowd. I think of all these things and wonder how parents could bring their children to witness such madness. I wonder what are in these children, and their children hearts, I sometimes wonder if they were brought up to think that same way. I have made this my personal endeavour to spread the information about this book. This have given me the energy and drive to seek out similar publication. There is a lesson to learn for every deed, whether bad or good.I hope everyone learns from this. No one should ever have to go through this again. Never.
Guest More than 1 year ago
There is nothing that can make right - a wrong done - that is unacknowledged. This book documents 4,700 (+) horrible wrongs. It takes on U. S. Dragons of injustice that breathe fire and murder for over 80 years unchecked and unchallenged. This work attempts to sing a sweeter song and battles with a sharp eye for detail/meaning. But be forewarned, the many bad men/women in this all-too human and all-too true drama - go unpunished. There is no comsic justice for the reader in the end: just cold, hard Blood-Drenched U.S. blues. Humanity in these essays and photos is covered in the muck of primitivism and blood stained forever in gore. The lives lost can not be replace. Right or wrong, the author's contend, each of us is capable of doing the same: we all shared those dark spaces, corners and edges with the predators in this work. One who views these photos will live with a bad taste in their mouths and a stink in his/her nostrils. This is exactly what the authors have had to do. They write that they will be forever haunted by the images in 'Without Sanctuary', and so shall you if you have the humanity to look, see and die a little.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This is one of the most visually devastating books of photographs I have ever seen. . . and when you read the stories behind the incidents it becomes even more powerful. Speaks out against hate and bigotry in all its forms. It's shocking to me that such violence and brutality were sanctioned and rationalized. We've come a long way but recent events in America prove that, as a nation, we still have a way to go.
Guest More than 1 year ago
'Between 1882 and 1968, an estimated 4,742 Blacks met their deaths at the hand of lynch mobs,' historian Leon F. Litwack writes. There are postcard-sizes images here that will burn your soul, taken immediatly or a short while or during the lynchings. The past becomes the present, These images don't go softly into you mind they scream their existance. They give a deeper meaning of what it is to be White or Black in America Today. The essays by a Georgia Congressman John Lewis, the historian Leon F. Litwack, and writer Hilton Als. Bring the fullness of what happen. Few white people came to trial for committing these odius crimes.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This too, is America and it's shown with the honesty that slogans and happy talk try to obscure.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I am more amazed at the action of those who got dressed up, packed lunch, and drove, walked and attended an event? to see strange fruit hanging from trees. The most disturbing photo I saw in this great book is the young girl with a smile on her face as she gazes up at one Black man hanging, what is she smiling about? Did her generation catch the big one? I recommend you get this book before someone with power bans it from all libraries across the nation. To actually learn people back then traded post cards announcing this from state to state is a most terrible yet valuable piece of our history. Is it any wonder why the death penalty and our prison industrial complex is so high for men of all colors now? I hope this helps you to never forget. I know it does for me to never loan the book to a friend who has yet to return it to me. stay strong and keep reading and learning from the past while you can........can't read?, then review the picture I just described and ask yourself, what do you see??
Guest More than 1 year ago
I highly recommend this book to every person black or white..The raw ugly detailed truth of how America metted out 'perfect hatred' against people of color have been hidden from us in schools and too often in the media...the truth needs to be exposed in all its hideousness to make us more aware and hopefully better human beings..This book has taken a huge step in that direction.. This was a powerful compilation of photos and factual text ;I was forever moved, angered ,& enlightened. A 'must read'
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Guest More than 1 year ago
Throughout this read, I questioned my own heart. Could I have been one of these happy spectators? I hated myself at the mere suggestion. As I read of these modern crucifixions, sobs shook me. I will be forever impacted, and yet as I look at history from the ampitheater to the holocaust and beyond, I wonder will we ever learn? We've moved on from lynching our brothers to killing the unborn, and in spite of scientific and clinical evidence that these little ones are indeed experiencing real horror and pain, have convinced ourselves that our attempts to undo our own poor decisions and lack of restraint by snuffing out a life is morally acceptable, and that granting one's self an additional choice at the expense of a weaker 'or positionally disadvantaged' human being is somehow morally superior to protecting that disadvantaged person. Killing someone simply as a matter of convenience--a punishment for a crime s/he has not committed--and then deeming it justifiable it's a sickening and insatiable bloodthirst... Who's next?
Guest More than 1 year ago
another grisly look at our 'caucasian' american history.. those murderous southerners.. easy to pick on.. easy to exploit.. easy to judge by today's standards.. after photos from the german concentration camps.. well: these are tame.. mostly only one person dead.. not thousands.. the phootographs though..in a gallery..does that mean the originals are for sale..isn't that a little like selling the cut off fingers of the victims at their murder.. maybe it's just me.. maybe i'm jaded..buy the book.. i did..