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A Must-See Exhibit About Lynching in America

In a spirit of reverence and remembrance, the Chicago Historical Society (CHS) is currently presenting Without Sanctuary: Lynching Photography in America, a must-see exhibition examining mob violence against African Americans and others.

Between 1882 and 1968, nearly 5,000 African Americans were lynched, many while hundreds of smiling racists egged on the violence, collecting souvenir body parts of the victims and posing for picture postcards so as to "commemorate" the brutality. While the lynchings were concentrated in the former Confederate states, no region was free from the racist terror.

Without Sanctuary begins by uncovering the stories of more than forty of the victims through postcards and photographs from the collection of James Allen and John Littlefield. The graphic images depict the brutal murder of someone's parent, child, brother, sister, or friend. As these images circulated through white communities, stories of terror circulated through black communities.

In the absence of adequate legal protection and out-numbered and out-gunned in most areas of the country, African Americans responded by strengthening their own communities, migrating north, and promoting anti-lynching activism. Without Sanctuary features the work of anti-lynching activist and Chicago journalist Ida B. Wells. While mainstream journalists almost universally fawned over the racist depictions of non-Europeans at the 1893 Chicago Columbian Exhibition, Wells was one of the few leaders to publicly criticize and organize against it.

The exhibition also brings the story of lynching home with an account of the horrific murder of 14-year-old Chicagoan Emmett Till in Mississippi in 1955. CHS augments the exhibition with images of Emmett Till in life and Chicago-based artist Franklin McMahon's drawings of the Till murder trial, which CHS acquired in 2004.

Although most lynching victims were African-American, others were Italian immigrants, Native Americans, Mexicans, and labor and anti-war activists of all races. Lynching and "legal" inequality were used as tools of social control to defend the inequalities of 19th and 20th century United States. Its victims were dehumanized in the public eye so to make it "okay" to commit acts of violence against them. Does this have a familiar ring for LGBT folk today?

The Chicago Historical Society is located on Clark Street at North Avenue and the exhibition runs thru October 10th.

Museum Hours are:

Mondays, Tuesdays, Wednesdays: 12 noon - 8 pm

Thursdays, Fridays, Saturdays: 9:30 am -- 4:30 pm

Sundays: 12 noon - 5 pm


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