On lynching

This page presents a carefully curated collection of texts on the topic of lynching. Whether we like it or not, racism and slavery are part of the history of the United States. Especially in the southern states, also known as the 'Deep South', racism was deeply rooted in the culture. Even after slavery was abolished and the Civil War was long over, up until the 1960s, black people were lynched by mobs of angry white people. How does a country deal with such a violent history? What kind of language can help people understand such hateful acts?

  1. Work in groups and draw a table like the one below on a large sheet of paper. Below are four very different texts on lynchings. Study the texts carefully. Discuss your answers to the questions in the table.

  2. Text What is the tone of the text? What is the mood of the text? How do text-specific stylistic and structural features build the tone and mood?
    1 Photo
    2 Poem
    3 Song
    4 Story

    This photograph is featured in 100 Photographs that Changed the World by Life in 2013 with a caption from Robert Sullivan which reads: "A mob of 10,000 whites took sledgehammers to the county jailhouse doors to get at these two young blacks accused of raping a white girl; the girl’s uncle saved the life of a third by proclaiming the man’s innocence. Although this was Marion, Ind., most of the nearly 5,000 lynchings documented between Reconstruction and the late 1960s were perpetrated in the South. (Hangings, beatings and mutilations were called the sentence of “Judge Lynch.”) Some lynching photos were made into postcards designed to boost white supremacy, but the tortured bodies and grotesquely happy crowds ended up revolting as many as they scared. Today the images remind us that we have not come as far from barbarity as we’d like to think."

    His spirit is smoke ascended to high heaven.
    His father, by the cruelest way of pain,
    Had bidden him to his bosom once again;
    The awful sin remained still unforgiven.
    All night a bright and solitary star
    (Perchance the one that ever guided him,
    Yet gave him up at last to Fate's wild whim)
    Hung pitifully o'er the swinging char.
    Day dawned, and soon the mixed crowds came to view
    The ghastly body swaying in the sun:
    The women thronged to look, but never a one
    Showed sorrow in her eyes of steely blue;
    And little lads, lynchers that were to be,
    Danced round the dreadful thing in fiendish glee.

    Southern trees bear a strange fruit
    Blood on the leaves and blood at the root
    Black bodies swinging in the Southern breeze
    Strange fruit hanging from the poplar trees

    Pastoral scene of the gallant South
    The bulging eyes and the twisted mouth
    Scent of magnolias sweet and fresh
    Then the sudden smell of burning flesh

    Here is a fruit for the crows to pluck
    For the rain to gather, for the wind to suck
    For the sun to rot, for the tree to drop
    Here is a strange and bitter crop

    It seemed to Myop as she skipped lightly from hen house to pigpen to smokehouse that the days had never been as beautiful as these. The air held a keenness that made her nose twitch. The harvesting of the corn and cotton, peanuts and squash, made each day a golden surprise that caused excited little tremors to run up her jaws.

    Myop carried a short, knobby stick. She struck out at random at chickens she liked, and worked out the beat of a song on the fence around the pigpen. She felt light and good in the warm sun. She was ten, and nothing existed for her but her song, the stick clutched in her dark brown hand, and the tat-de-ta-ta-ta of accompaniment,turning her back on the rusty boards of her family's sharecropper cabin, Myop walked along the fence till it ran into the stream made by the spring. Around the spring, where the family got drinking water, silver ferns and wildflowers grew. Along the shallow banks pigs rooted. Myop watched the tiny white bubbles disrupt the thin black scale of soil and the water that silently rose and slid away down the stream.

    She had explored the woods behind the house many times. Often, in late autumn, her mother took her to gather nuts among the fallen leaves. Today she made her own path, bouncing this way and that way, vaguely keeping an eye out for snakes. She found, in addition to various common but pretty ferns and leaves, an armful of strange blue flowers with velvety ridges and a sweet suds bush full of the brown, fragrant buds.

    By twelve o'clock, her arms laden with sprigs of her findings, she was a mile or more from home. She had often been as far before, but the strangeness of the land made it not as pleasant as her usual haunts. It seemed gloomy in the little cove in which she found herself. The air was damp, the silence close and deep.
    Myop began to circle back to the house, back to the peacefulness of the morning. It was then she stepped smack into his eyes. Her heel became lodged in the broken ridge between brow and nose, and she reached down quickly, unafraid, to free herself. It was only when she saw his naked grin that she gave a little yelp of surprise.

    He had been a tall man. From feet to neck covered a long space. His head lay beside him. When she pushed back the leaves and layers of earth and debris Myop saw that he'd had large white teeth, all of them cracked or broken, long fingers, and very big bones. All his clothes had rotted away except some threads of blue denim from his overalls. The buckles of the overall had turned green.

    Myop gazed around the spot with interest. Very near where she'd stepped into the head was a wild pink rose. As she picked it to add to her bundle she noticed a raised mound, a ring, around the rose's root. It was the rotted remains of a noose, a bit of shredding plowline, now blending benignly into the soil. Around an overhanging limb of a great spreading oak clung another piece. Frayed, rotted, bleached, and frazzled--barely there-- but spinning restlessly in the breeze. Myop laid down her flowers.

    And the summer was over.

  3. After you have discussed your answers to these questions and explored the texts, assign each person in your group one of the texts. Do an online search to find out more about your text, its author and its reception. Share this information with your groupmates and discuss how this background information adds to your understanding of these texts.

  4. As a class, discuss how these texts add to your understanding of several key concepts from this course, such as culture, communication, creativity, identity, transformation, perspective, representation.

  5. Write a one-page, bullet-pointed outline for 10-minute, individual oral, in which you comment on:
      • the global issue of racism and violence,
      • the photograph (Text 1) (5 minutes),
      • and the poem (Text 2), the song (Text 3) or the story (Text 4) (5 minutes).
Last modified: Sunday, 4 October 2020, 4:23 PM