“You can’t really understand lynching, unless you understand slavery. And you can’t appreciate slavery, unless you appreciate the genocide that happened with Native people.”
These are the bold and truthful words spoken by Bryan Stevenson this past Tuesday evening at the Lynching In America: Confronting The History of Racial Terror digital experience in Chelsea, New York City. Launched by Stevenson and The Equal Justice Initiative, this experience showcased a plethora of canvas photographs, written stories and video footage hanging on clean white walls. All of the displays presented, documented the personal narratives of black men and women who have been affected by lynching here in America.
Proceeding the gallery walk, guests gathered to watch a short-film documenting the journey and testimony of an African American man who was wrongfully convicted of a crime he did not commit and spent nearly 30 years on death row. It was even revealed that law enforcement was aware of his innocence nearly sixteen years before the man’s pardon.
This was the appropriate segue into the real discussion of the night, in which speakers recognized the “modern day” lynching in America, mass incarceration. It was a humbling surprise to have the protagonist of the short-film, Anthony Hinton, join the speakers on stage. Hinton was quoted to have said that terror has gone, “from the tree to the electric chair, from the electric chair to the gurney… At the end of the journey they’re still putting you to death.”
Shirah Dedman, who was working with the Equal Justice Initiative, was also a speaker alongside Bryan Stevenson. Dedman shared the story of her great-grandmother who became a widow at twenty six years of age as a result of her husband being lynched. Dedman’s great-grandmother actually won a landmark case against a life insurance company arguing that “lynching is an accident.” Reflecting on the history of lynching in America, Dedman once exclaimed, “to have accountability, that would completely change the black experience in America. And the fact that as a black person you don’t expect justice.”
Though the topic of the evening was surely a serious and grim one, attendees socialized with the accompany of drinks and hors d’oeuvre distributed by waiters and waitresses floating throughout the venue. This allowed for genuine discussion and camaraderie amongst the diverse crowd of attendees, resulting in more smiles of joy, than tears of sadness.
The even was made possible by a grant from Google.