At the Hands of Persons Unknown explores how trees have been silent witnesses to the lynching of women in the United States.

Lynching has been one of the most odious aspects of mob violence in the United States since the nineteenth century. Although lynching’s roots can be found in the British Isles, and its use against blacks actually precedes the end of slavery, lynching emerged as one of the brutal tools of racial control to suppress black civil rights and to maintain white supremacy. By far, the majority of lynching victims were black men. However, a sizable minority were non-whites, poor whites, and women. More than 4,000 African Americans and about 1,300 whites were lynched across twenty states between 1877 and 1968, but mostly in the American South[1][2].

There are at least 170 recorded lynching cases of women from 1837 to 1965, the majority occurring before the Great Depression. Of the 170 cases that Crystal N. Feimster cites in her 2009 book, Southern Horrors: Women and the Politics of Rape and Lynching, eighty-three percent of the lynched women were black, sixteen percent white, and one percent Hispanic[3]. However, numerous more women will have been raped, tarred, feathered, tortured, and mutilated.

By highlighting the lynching of women this project exposes an often overlooked aspect of U.S. history. Given the renewed interest into the many ways women are oppressed by contemporary power structures, exploring the forgotten history of female lynching is both timely and relevant to contemporary debates on notions of race, gender, and sexuality.

My personal motivations for this project come from my perspective as a German-American woman who is married to an African American man. My husband and I would not have been able to have a relationship until quite recently as mixed-race marriage was not allowed. If detected, one of us or both may have been lynched. In fact, the Loving vs. Virginia rule ended a ban on mixed-race marriage in the U.S. only in 1967.

This project also includes a video and an installation.

[1] Equal Justice Initiative (2015) Lynching in America: Confronting the Legacy of Racial Terror. Report Summary. Montgomery, Alabama. Numbers vary depending on source.

[2] NAACP: History of Lynchings, http://www.naacp.org/history-of-lynchings/. Accessed June 5, 2018. Numbers vary depending on source

[3] Feimster, Crystal N. (2009) Southern Horrors. Women and the Politics of Rape and Lynching. Harvard University Press: Cambridge, Massachusetts and London, England: 235-239

 

  

untitled 1untitled 2untitled 3untitled 4untitled 5untitled 6untitled 7untitled 8 untitled 9untitled 10untitled 12untitled 11 untitled 15untitled 16untitled 17untitled 19untitled 18At the Hands of Persons Unknown (video)Maquette of Moving LampInstallation Shot Images and VideoInstallation Shot Images and Video