Crowds and Lynching

Crowd at a 1930 lynching in Marion, Indiana

Lynchings were often public events. Folks gathered from neighboring towns and counties. They traveled on horseback and foot. These events were often photographed, and the photos were later sold on postcards.

In this photo, a crowd looks back at a photographer, Lawrence Beitler, on August 7, 1930 in Marion, Indiana, as two drooping, beaten black bodies hang in front of them. Notice the young couple on the left of the photo, and the man towards the center who is pointing toward the bodies. I wonder what motivated him to raise his hand toward the dead men. Peer closely into the center of the photo and notice the woman wearing a fur coat. An uncommon wardrobe choice for the heat of summer.

What you can’t see in this photo is James Cameron. A teenager who was badly beaten and sitting near the dead men. This photograph sparked several poems. I am sharing one of those poems in today’s post. It’s titled: “The Crowd Looks Back”

Today, people don’t dress up attend lynchings. But thousands of Americans are witnessing black people be killed in front of their very eyes via social media and news outlets. I have heard it be refer to as “murder porn.”

We often discuss what happens to the victims of such incidents and their families. But, what happens to the crowd who views lynchings? What motivates onlookers? Once you have seen a lynching, what responsibility, if any, do you have? When we view view death as a community, where does our focus land?

Drop me a comment, and let me know what you think.


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