Each of the throw blankets in the stack depicts the image of a lynching or killing. They capture experiences of extreme human atrocity in objects designed for comfort, warmth, and safety.
The lynching of W. C. or R. C. Williams, his body hanging from an oak tree, lower body covered with kitchen apron. Blood streaming down legs suggests castration. Onlookers include white men and young children. News Report of W. C. Williams Lynching: Lynch Law - Ruston, LA. The shot riddled body of negro W. C. Williams hangs from the towering oak tree less than 150 yards from where the murder and assault for which he was killed were ommitted. A mob of 300 persons administered lynch law after Williams admitted that he had clubbed mill worker Robert N. Blair to death and criminally assaulted his girl companion. The mob took Williams from the posse which had captured him after a three day hunt, strung him up to the tree, then riddled his body with bullets. Lynching in America is a chapter in our history that seldom gets addressed. Based on one survey, 4,742 African Americans were murdered by lynching between 1882 and 1968. Others were lynched as well, but not nearly in the same numbers. These included people of Caucasian, Chinese, Latino, and Jewish descent. There are similarities between death by lynching and the flood of shootings and killings by other methods in present day America. In sync with the extrajudicial quality of lynching, today’s murders often go unprosecuted, or, if they go to trial, often end in acquittal of the accused. The psychological impact of lynching remains with us today. People of color fear vigilante justice. These crimes frequently go unpunished, whether committed by citizens or by the police.
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.
Laura and L.D. Nelson (born 1878 and 1897)[were an African-American mother and son who were lynched on May 25, 1911, near Okemah, the county seat of Okfuskee County, Oklahoma. Laura, her husband Austin, their teenage son L.D., and possibly their child had been taken into custody on May 2, 1911 after Deputy Sheriff George Loney came to their home to investigate the theft of a cow. The son shot Loney, who was hit in the leg and bled to death; Laura was reportedly the first to grab the gun and was charged with murder, along with her son. Her husband pleaded guilty to larceny and was sent to the relative safety of the state prison in McAlester. The son, L.D. Nelson, was held in the county jail in Okemah and the mother, Laura, in a cell in the nearby courthouse to await trial. At around midnight on May 24, a group of between 12 and 40 men kidnapped Laura and L.D. Nelson from their cells. The Crisis, the magazine of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, said in July 1911 that Laura was raped before she and L.D. were hanged from a bridge over the North Canadian River. Sightseers gathered on the bridge the following morning, and photographs of the event were sold as postcards. The one of Laura is the only known surviving photograph of a female lynching victim. No one was ever charged with the murders of the Nelsons; the district judge convened a grand jury, but the killers were never identified. The Nelsons were among at least 4,743 people lynched in the United States between 1888 and 1968, 73 percent of them black, 73 percent of them in the South, around 150 of them women.