Soundless Series is a group of wood sculptures resembling stringed instrument bodies, and marked with the date and location of death and historical event.
As a musician, Paul Rucker’s primary instrument is the cello—a metaphor for the human body in his artwork.
Early on the morning of September 15, 1963, four members of the United Klans of America—Bobby Frank Cherry, Thomas Blanton, Herman Frank Cash, and Robert Chambliss— planted a box of dynamite with a time delay under the steps of the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama, near the basement. At about 10:22am, 26 children were walking into the basement assembly room to prepare for the sermon entitled “The Love That Forgives” when the bomb exploded near Addie Mae Collins (age 14), Denise McNair (age 11), Carole Robertson (age 14), and Cynthia Wesley (age 14). All (4) girls were killed and 22 additional people were injured.
Excerpt from the poem The Haunted Oak:
My leaves were green as the best, I trow, And sap ran free in my veins, But I say in the moonlight dim and weird A guiltless victim’s pains.
On July 17, 2014, Eric Garner died in Staten Island, New York, after a police officer put him in a chokehold. The New York City Medical Examiner’s Office concluded that Garner died partly as a result of the chokehold. New York City Police Department policy prohibits the use of chokeholds, and law enforcement personnel contend that it was a headlock and that no choking took place.
On the evening of February 26, 2012, George Zimmerman observed Trayvon Martin as he returned to the Twin Lakes housing community after having walked to a nearby convenience store. At the time, Zimmerman was driving through the neighborhood on a personal errand. At approximately 7:09pm, Zimmerman called the Sanford police non-emergency number to report what he considered a suspicious person in the Twin Lakes community. Zimmerman stated, “We’ve had some break-ins in my neighborhood, and there’s a real suspicious guy.” He described an unknown male “just walking around looking about” in the rain and said, “This guy looks like he is up to no good or he is on drugs or something.” Zimmerman reported that the person had his hand in his waistband and was walking around looking at homes. On the recording, Zimmerman is heard saying, “These assholes, they always get away.” About two minutes into the call, Zimmerman said, “He’s running.” The dispatcher asked, “He’s running? Which way is he running?” Noises on the tape at this point have been interpreted by some media outlets as the sound of a car door chime, possibly indicating Zimmerman opened his car door. Zimmerman followed Martin, eventually losing sight of him. The dispatcher asked Zimmerman if he was following him. When Zimmerman answered, “yeah,” the dispatcher said, “We don’t need you to do that.” Zimmerman responded, “Okay.” Zimmerman asked that police call him upon their arrival so he could provide his location. Zimmerman ended the call at 7:15pm. After Zimmerman ended his call with police, a violent encounter took place between Martin and Zimmerman, which ended when Zimmerman fatally shot Martin 70 yards from the rear door of the townhouse where Martin was staying. A jury later found Zimmerman not guilty
James Byrd, Jr. was an African American who was murdered by three men, of whom at least two were white supremacists, in Jasper, Texas, on June 7, 1998. Shawn Berry, Lawrence Russell Brewer, and John King dragged Byrd for three miles behind a pick-up truck along an asphalt road.
The Groveland Four (or the Groveland Boys) were four young African-American men—Ernest Thomas, Charles Greenlee, Samuel Shepherd and Walter Irvin—who were accused of raping a 17-year-old white woman in Lake County, Florida in 1948. Thomas was killed by a posse after leaving the area. Greenlee, Shepherd, and Irvin were beaten while in jail to coerce confessions, but Irvin refused to confess falsely. The three survivors were each convicted at trial by an all-white jury. Greenlee was sentenced to life because he was only 16 at the time of the event; Shepherd and Irvin were sentenced to death. A retrial was ordered by the United States Supreme Court after hearing their appeals, led by Thurgood Marshall of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund. In 1951, Sheriff Willis McCall shot both Shepherd and Irvin in November, 1951 while they were in his custody, saying they tried to escape. Shepherd died on the spot, and Irvin told investigators the sheriff shot them in cold blood. At the second trial, Irvin was convicted again and sentenced to death. His sentence was commuted to life by the governor in 1955. Irvin was paroled in 1968; he died in 1970 while visiting Lake County
Vernon Ferdinand Dahmer, Sr. was an American civil rights leader and president of the Forrest County chapter of the NAACP in Hattiesburg, Mississippi. Dahmer was light-skinned enough to pass as white, but chose to forgo the privileges of living as a white man in Mississippi at that time. In March, 1952, Dahmer married Ellie Jewell Davis, a teacher from Rose Hill, Mississippi. The couple had eight children. Dahmer was a member of Shady Grove Baptist Church where he served as a music director and Sunday school teacher. He became the owner of a grocery store, sawmill, planing mill, and 200-acre cotton farm. On the night of January 10, 1966, the Dahmer home was firebombed. As Ellie and the children escaped the inferno, gunshots were fired from the streets and Vernon returned fire from inside the house. He was severely burned from the waist up before he could escape and died the next day. The Dahmer home, grocery store, and car were destroyed in the fire. Authorities indicted fourteen men, most with Ku Klux Klan connections. Thirteen were brought to trial, eight on charges of arson and murder. Four were convicted and one, Billie Roy Pitts, entered a guilty plea and turned state’s evidence. Three of the four convicted were pardoned within four years. In addition, eleven of the defendants were tried on federal charges of conspiracy to intimidate Dahmer because of his civil rights activities. Former Klan Imperial Wizard Sam Bowers, who was believed to have ordered the attack, was tried four times, but each ended in a mistrial. Based on new evidence, the state of Mississippi reopened the case and in 1998 tried Bowers for the murder of Dahmer and assault on his family. The jury convicted Bowers, and the judge sentenced him to life in prison. He died in Mississippi State Penitentiary on November 5, 2006.
On March 25, 1965, Viola Fauver Gregg Liuzzo, a white Unitarian Universalist civil rights activist from Detroit, Michigan, was shot and killed by members of the Ku Klux Klan in Montgomery, Alabama. She was 39 years old. Liuzzo, a housewife and mother of five with a history of local activism, heeded the call of Martin Luther King Jr. and traveled to Selma, Alabama in the wake of the Bloody Sunday attempt at marching across the Edmund Pettus Bridge. A large part of Viola’s activism was due to a close friendship with a black woman, Sarah Evans, with whom she shared similar views and support for the Civil Rights Movement. In the aftermath of Liuzzo’s death, Evans would go on to become the permanent caretaker of Liuzzo’s five young children. One of the four Klansmen in the car from which the shots were fired was FBI informant Gary Rowe. Rowe testified against the shooters and was moved and given an assumed name by the FBI. Liuzzo’s name is today inscribed on the Civil Rights Memorial in Montgomery, Alabama.
Three American civil rights workers— James Earl Chaney, Andrew Goodman, and Michael “Mickey” Schwerner—were shot at close range on the night of June 21–22, 1964 by members of the Mississippi White Knights of the Ku Klux Klan, the Neshoba County Sheriff’s Office and the Philadelphia, Mississippi Police Department.
Medgar Wiley Evers was shot in the back in his driveway in by KKK member Byron De La Beckwith on June 12, 1963. Medgar was a black civil rights activist from Mississippi involved in efforts to overturn segregation at the University of Mississippi. After returning from overseas military service in World War II and completing his secondary education, he became active in the civil rights movement. In late 1954, Evers was named the NAACP’s first field secretary for Mississippi. In this position, he helped organize boycotts and set up new local chapters of the NAACP.
(This is the only piece in the Soundless Series that makes sound. A wolf-whistle can be heard coming from the speakers every 67- minutes)
Emmett Louis Till was a 14-year-old black boy murdered in Mississippi after reportedly flirting with a white woman.
Till was from Chicago, Illinois, visiting his relatives in Money, Mississippi when he spoke to 21-year-old Carolyn Bryant, the married proprietor of a small grocery store there. Several nights later, Bryant’s husband, Roy, and his half-brother, J. W. Milam, arrived at Till’s great-uncle’s house where they took Till, transported him to a barn, beat him and gouged out one of his eyes before shooting him through the head and disposing of his body in the Tallahatchie River, weighting it with a 70-pound cotton gin fan tied around his neck with barbed wire. His body was discovered and retrieved from the river three days later.
On September 23, 1955 the jury acquitted both defendants after a 67-minute deliberation; one juror said, “If we hadn’t stopped to drink pop, it wouldn’t have taken that long.”
The Scottsboro Boys were nine black teenagers accused of rape in Alabama in 1931. The landmark set of legal cases from this incident dealt with racism and the right to a fair trial. The case included framing, an all-white jury, rushed trials, an attempted lynching, and an angry mob; it is frequently given as an example of an overall miscarriage of justice.
The Red Summer race riots occurred in more than three dozen cities in the United States during the summer and early autumn of 1919. Between January 1 and September 14, 1919, white mobs lynched at least forty-three African Americans, with sixteen hanged and others shot; another eight men were burned at the stake. The states appeared powerless or unwilling to interfere or prosecute such mob murders. The 1919 events were among the first in which blacks in number resisted white attacks.
Jesse Washington, a black teenage farmhand, was lynched in Waco, Texas, on May 15, 1916 in what became a well-known example of racially motivated lynching. Washington was accused of raping and murdering Lucy Fryer, the wife of his white employer in rural Robinson, Texas. There were no eyewitnesses to the crime, but during his interrogation by the McLennan County sheriff, Washington signed a confession and described the location of the murder weapon. Washington was tried for murder in Waco, in a courtroom filled with furious locals. He entered a guilty plea, was quickly sentenced to death, dragged out of the court by observers and lynched in front of Waco’s city hall. Over 10,000 spectators, including city officials and police, gathered to watch the attack. There was a celebratory atmosphere at the event. Members of the mob castrated Washington, cut off his fingers, and hung him over a bonfire. He was repeatedly lowered and raised over the fire for about two hours. After the fire was extinguished, his charred torso was dragged through the town and parts of his body were sold as souvenirs. A professional photographer took pictures as the event unfolded, providing rare imagery of a lynching in progress. The pictures were printed and sold as postcards in Waco. The lynching drew a large crowd, numbering 15,000 at its peak. The crowd included the mayor and the chief of police, although lynching was illegal in Texas. Sheriff Fleming told his deputies not to stop the lynching, and no one was arrested after the event. The sheriff’s actions may have been motivated by a desire to deal harshly with crime to help his candidacy for re-election that year. Mayor John Dollins may have also encouraged the mob, owing to the belief that a lynching would be politically beneficial. As the lynching occurred at midday, children from local schools walked downtown to observe, some climbing into trees for a better view. Many parents approved of their children’s attendance, hoping that the lynching would reinforce a belief in white supremacy. Some white Texans saw participation in a lynching as a rite of passage for young men. Although supported by many Waco residents, the lynching was condemned by newspapers around the United States. Historians have noted that Washington’s death helped alter the way that lynching was viewed; the publicity it received curbed public support for the practice, and lynching became regarded as barbarism rather than as an acceptable form of justice.
Leo Max Frank was a Jewish-American factory superintendent whose murder trial and extrajudicial hanging in 1915 by a lynch mob planned and led by prominent citizens in Marietta, Georgia, drew attention to questions of anti-Semitism in the United States. An engineer and superintendent of the National Pencil Company in Atlanta, Frank was convicted on August 25, 1913, for murdering one of his factory workers, 13-year-old Mary Phagan. She had been strangled on April 26th, and was found dead in the factory cellar the next morning. A state physician conducting the autopsy indicated evidence of sexual violence. Frank was the last person known to have seen her alive, and there were allegations that he had sexually harassed her before. His trial became the focus of powerful class, regional, and political interests. Raised in New York, he was cast as a representative of Yankee capitalism, a rich northern Jew in contrast to the poverty experienced by Phagan and many working-class Southerners of the time. There was jubilation in the streets when Frank was convicted and sentenced to death. During the height of the summer Frank narrowly survived a prison attack after his throat was slashed. One month later, he was kidnapped from the penitentiary by a group of 25 armed men whocalled themselves “Knights of Mary Phagan.” Frank was driven 170 miles from Milledgville to Frey’s Gin and lynched. A crowd gathered after the hanging; one man repeatedly stomped on Frank’s face, while others took photographs, pieces of his nightshirt, and bits of the rope as souvenirs. In 1982, Alonzo Mann, who had been Frank’s office boy for three weeks at the time of Phagan’s murder, told a journalist for the Tennessean Newspaper, nearly 69 years after the trial ended, that he had seen Jim Conley alone shortly after noon in the factory carrying Phagan’s body through the lobby toward the ladder descending to the basement. This contradicted Conley’s testimony that he moved Phagan’s dead body to the basement by the elevator. Mann swore in an affidavit in the 1980s that Conley had threatened to kill him if he reported what he had seen. At the time of the events Mann was aged 14. After telling his family what he had seen, his parents made him swear not to tell anyone else. Mann explained that his statement was made in an effort to die in peace. He passed a lie detector test, and died three years later in March, 1985, at the age of 86. Frank was posthumously pardoned in 1986 which the Georgia State Board of Pardons and Paroles stated was “in an effort to heal old wounds,” without officially absolving him of the crime.
Love Sermon: On November 5, 1893, a prominent Baptist preacher gave a sermon condemning lynching, rape, and mob violence against African Americans in the South. In his sermon, Rev. Emmanuel K. Love of the First African Baptist Church in Savannah, Georgia advocated quality for all people, black and white. Fifteen hundred people attended the evening church service to hear the sermon given by Love. Love noted “the well-known fact that like begets like,” and warned that the outrageous acts of lynching would not stop any time soon. His plea was that “The sensible Negroes and conservative whites should unite and frown down these outrages. This can best be done by conservative talk, fair reasoning, confidence and patriotic cooperation.”