Richard Ansett

© Richard Ansett 2017

Lynching in America – Truth & Reconciliation

The Equal Justice Initiative (EJI) Community Remembrance Project (CRP) is part of a campaign to recognize the victims of lynching by collecting soil from lynching sites in named jars for a planned memorial in Montgomery, Alabama in 2018.

Lynching has profoundly impacted race relations in the USA and shaped the geographic, political, social, and economic conditions in ways that are both evident and hidden. The evident legacy of lynching as an abuse, is that it has created a fearful environment in which subordination and segregation are maintained within the minds of both black and white.

The Community Remembrance Project is an attempt at public acknowledgment as an essential tool of healing, recognising that we are all suffer from trauma and damage through a relationship to any systematic violence and dehumanization. In this spirit communities are being encouraged to address the history and legacy of lynching.

Beginning a conversation and advancing the path towards truth and reconciliation brings hope of an erosion of the destructive historic memes that limit progress towards a more healthy and productive existence.

The acts of ‘truth and reconciliation’ address oppressive histories by helping communities to honestly and soberly recognize the pain of the past and the effect on the present for all, offering hope of overcoming the shadows cast by grievous events.

Austin Callaway, the Apology.

77 years ago Austin Callaway, a 16-year-old African-American, was dragged out of a jail cell by a band of masked white men, then shot five times in the head and left for dead in isolated woodland outside the town of LaGrange, Georgia. In the spirit of the EJI remembrance project, the LaGrange’s police chief, who issued a public apology for the lynching, acknowledged the death of Callaway in 2017.

“I sincerely regret and denounce the role our Police Department played in Austin’s lynching, both through our action and our inaction and for that, I’m profoundly sorry. It should never have happened.” – Chief Dekmar

The Project

In August, 2017 I met with the Equal Justice Initiative to photograph some of the different soils from the lynching sites across Alabama as a typology. I arranged to meet with a community of LaGrange, Georgia to document the collection of the soil by the victim’s descendants for the official EJI memorial jar. Present at this event were members of the white community, representatives of law enforcement and a descendant of the family that found Callaway’s body.

The images focus in detail on the specific time spent in the landscape of the abuse and the connection to the space by all members of the community. My existential interest is in the examination of the forces within and beyond awareness that influence our relationship to the world. This project offers an opportunity to explore the perception of otherwise ordinary woodland as extraordinary in the minds of those who have made progress to understand.

The event is created document for a camera and the images are records of invitations to participate in actions inspired by the photographer as an empathic protagonist but with recognition that the images are influenced by forces beyond awareness and are inevitably autobiographical.

The camera can be both damaging and healing in its scrutiny but with permission and negotiation there is great value in being seen.

Photographs © Richard Ansett 2017