The Red Magpie

“There is always the temptation in life to diddle around making itsy-bitsy friends and meals and journeys for years on end. It is all so self conscience, so apparently moral...But I won't have it. The world is wilder than that in all directions, more dangerous...more extravagant and bright." Dillard

Rachel Marie-Crane Williams, is an artist and teacher currently employed as an Associate Professor at the University of Iowa. She has a joint appointment between the School of Art and Art History (Intermedia) and Gender Women's and Sexuality Studies. She is originally from North Carolina (the Eastern Coastal Plain), but she has lived in Iowa since 1998, and taught at The University of Iowa since 1999. Her work as a researcher and creative scholar has always been focused on women's issues, community, art, and people who are incarcerated. She earned a BFA in Painting and Drawing from East Carolina University and an MFA (Studio Art) and a Ph.D.(Art Education) from Florida State University.

American alternative/single creator comics and graphic novels have been at the heart of her creative scholarship for the past few years. Her graphic scholarship has been published by the Jane Addams Hull House Museum, the Journal of Cultural Research in Art Education, and the International Journal of Comic Art. Her current projects include a graphic novel about the Detroit Race Riots of 1943, a mini comic about police brutality,and The Prison Chronicles, a series of stories about working in prisons.

(Short interview for Gender, Women's and Sexuality Studies Dept.)

Guts and Glory: The War Train that Shaped a Nation

This project is part of a large exhibition which includes Iowa BIG and the National Czech and Slovak Museum and Library in Cedar Rapid, Iowa. The exhibition is composed of large scale graphic panels about the exploits of the Czecho-Slovak Legion as they made their way across Russia into Siberia on the Trans-Siberian Railroad during World War I. First they had to fight against the Austro-Hungarian Empire and then Trotsky's Red Army. In some instances they had been part of the Austria-Hungary troops, later captured and housed as POWs in Russia, only to be recruited by Tomas Masaryk to join the Česká Družina, fight their way across Russia, take a boat from Vladivostok to the Western Front, and fight side by side with the French. In the meantime Masaryk is living in exile and working with leaders to gain independence for the Czechs and Slovaks in the Hapsburg Empire. It is an amazing story. I collaborated with Kevin J. Mcnamara, the author of Dreams of a Great Small Nation (http://www.kevinjmcnamara.com/) to craft a scrip for the exhibition panels based on characters he created, and original research. We worked closely with the curator Stefanie Kohn, who the a vision for the exhibition. It took approximately 5 months to paint and create all of the panels. In the end there were 25. The entire exhibit runs from April 7th, 2018 till December.  Here is a wonderful video about the exhibition created by Laura Formanek. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fL-LXRlsbKE

Elegy for Mary Turner

Elegy for Mary Turner (to be published by Verso Books in the next year or so-https://www.versobooks.com/pg/about-verso) is part of a larger body of work about race, violence, history, and graphic narratives. In recent years the focus of my work has been based on the history of white violence against African Americans. For hundreds of years graphic narratives were used against African Americans to incite fear and anchor cultural stereotypes in place. The first time I heard the story of Mary Turner it resonated with me. It made cold stones in my stomach that refused to pass. It made me feel visceral pain and revulsion. Not only because I am a mother and that I have carried babies in my womb, not only because when I heard this I was a doula and had witnessed women giving birth and bearing children, not only because like all of us I had seen first hand the inherent horror of ubiquitous racism, not only because I had been to the place where this happened but because it was not rare. Because it happened so many times in our culture. Because black women, even now are still being punished for speaking out, for existing, and for having children.

Lynching in America evokes images of hanging but it includes drowning, dragging, shooting, stabbing, burning, and beating. New Statistics were released last year from the Equal Justice Institute, “The authors of the report compiled an inventory of 3,959 victims of “racial terror lynchings” in 12 Southern states from 1877 to 1950.” (New York Times February 10, 2015 http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2015/02/10/us/map-of-73-years-of-lynching.html) The report found that Mississippi, Georgia, and Louisiana had the highest number of lynchings.

Lynching is tied up in a larger package of race and violence. It is often couched in the idea of keeping white women safe from black men. Black men have been historically depicted by white supremacists as atavistic, brutes, sexual predators, natural criminals. It was used a tool of terror not only for the victim of the lynching but against the entire African American community. Terror lynchings were often done in broad daylight in places where there was a great deal of traffic such as public squares, fair grounds, cross roads and bridges. White community members, men, women and children attended terror lynchings. Sometimes there were hundreds if not thousands of spectators. The often mutilated bodies were left in place as a reminder to African Americans that they were never to cross the race line with regard to power without consequences. For humans death can be scary, but a painful tortured death is often one of the things all of us fear the most. Many of us fear a death that involves humiliation, suffering, and a prolonged and painful end.

Black victims of lynching were often demonized as violent and dangerous despite the fact that many victims were not connected to any crime. This idea was used to stoke fear in the masses, cripple any advances in black civil rights, and justify white supremacy. Lynching is often couched in the idea of mob justice and vigilante heroism. But these murders happened with no consideration for justice. The murderers went unpunished. One common response by lawmakers was that if African Americans were capable of policing their own communities and casting out the criminal elements then the white community would not have to engage in this kind of violence on behalf of public safety.

 The idea that African Americans are less than human, a threat to public safety and civic life, and in need of constant surveillance and control has been present in popular culture, the world of medicine and even in the way that the laws were and are still enforced. The effects of this racism are still present. The attention given to police shootings of black unarmed citizens has brought this lack of racial justice to light in recent years. Redlining has led to ongoing segregation with regard to neighborhoods and housing and an inability to pass down wealth to children, our nation locks up more people than any country on earth, one among many issues that faces our country is disproportionate minority contact. 1 in every 15 African American men and 1 in every 36 Hispanic men are incarcerated in comparison to 1 in every 106 white men

In 2014, the imprisonment rate for African American women (109 per 100,000) was more than twice the rate of imprisonment for white women (53 per 100,000).3

http://www.sentencingproject.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/02/Incarcerated-Women-and-Girls.pdf

Women who are perceived as black have always been the most vulnerable with regard to these ideas grounded in white supremacy. Even today this still is evident. Black men and women generally make less than white men and women in hourly wages and black people have higher rates of asthma, HIV, AIDS, diabetes, cardiovascular disease and higher rates of infant mortality.  Hispanic and Native Americans and Native Alaskans are the only groups who fare worse. Today Black men have the shortest expected life span of any group. This in part is due to poverty, access to medical care, and the treatment options that are available. When people of color visit a medical facility they are more likely to experience bias among healthcare workers. A study published in 2016 found that oftentimes black patients were undertreated for pain by white physicians and that many medical students thought that black people felt less pain than whites because they thought the skin of African Americans was “naturally” thicker. Medical students in 2016…( http://www.pbs.org/newshour/bb/is-there-a-racial-care-gap-in-medical-treatment/)

In terms of infant mortality: In 2007, the infant mortality rate for non-Hispanic black women was 13.31 infant deaths per 1,000 live births, 2.4 times the rate for non-Hispanic white women (5.63) (2007 CDC). We do these things to each other. We kill, punish, restrict, and ignore based on the sociocultural myth of race.  Make no mistake race is socially constructed it is not biological.

These ideas carried forward from the time that African people were enslaved in order to control them with fear and violence and balance the cognitive dissonance that comes from these horrific practices, from treating other people as less than human. They were propagated by artists, sociologists, lawyers, police, governors, chancellors, presidents anthropologists, journalists, teachers, preachers, --this list goes on and on. It is easy to say these ideas belong to people who are ignorant, but don’t believe that for an instant. I don’t believe that because I have the privilege of sitting in a place of learning and tolerance that these ideas don’t exist.

At the same time I learned of the Mary Turner story I visited Washington DC to look in the national archives for information about Detroit. One afternoon after sitting under fluorescent lights and reading photocopied documents for hours I decided to stroll to the National Museum of Women in the Arts. In the library in a small and exhibition were the wood cuts of Czech artist Helena Bochořáková-Dittrichová.

She had been influenced by Frans Masereel, also one of the artists that I really loved. He also influenced the work of Lynd Ward as well as Eric Drooker.

 When I thought of the story of Mary Turner it appeared in my mind as images in this vain. As block prints. I wondered if I could produce her story as a wordless graphic narrative much like these artists had produced stories of political strife, inner turmoil, epic journeys and everyday life as graphic narratives. Over the course ofroughly a year I created over 20 linoleum cuts.  I make prints like a painter, not a printmaker. The image is the most important part for me. Unlike true printmakers I am happy with one. I love making images but I detest printing them. As a consequence I like the blocks more than the prints and made them without printing a single one until the end. It took me about two months to print the series. When I was finished they told a generic story about lynching and racial violence. What stood out, similar to the way the events surrounds Mary Turner’s murder stand out was that in the middle of the story were images of a woman and a baby. Without text the story was not specific. My own handwriting has always been horrible. Even in my comics I labor over making fonts. I am incapable of hand lettering. One of the things about this project that struck me when I thought of images and of the year 1918 was world war one. It was during this same year that my great grandfather was killed in France. Like me my grandmother saved correspondence. When she died I rescued two shirtboxes full of postcards from the goodwill pile. One box was full of blank postcards she had collected during her travels in the United States. They are largely uninteresting and mostly come from hotels that are recommended by triple A, one of my grandmother’s favorite organizations. But mixed in with these blank postcards are letters my great grandmother received from friends and family during the war. There is also a pile of correspondence related to my grandfather’s death. All of these appear to be written with fountain pens or dip pens and inkwells. The handwriting is graceful; it is evidence of hours of painstaking discipline and drills. In some cases it even looks like the writers used a ruler to make sure there were no deviations from the ruled line. If I could write and think of it as drawing then perhaps I could write Turner’s story as part of the images and make the collection specific through text. I spent part of the summer teaching myself to imitate the writing that appeared on the postcards from my grandmother’s collection of correspondence from World War I. While the text is original the source of the story is not.

 I had been inspired and informed by the work of the Mary Turner Project spearheaded by professors at Valdosta State and community members in that region. In particular the work of Walter White. Like most scholars and artists I have multiple projects in process at all times. One of the other things I am working on is a graphic novel about the 1943 Detroit Race Riots. Walter White figures prominently into this work as well so when I saw a document on the website that linked to his article for The Crisis, the official publication of the NAACP founded in 1910 by W.E.B Dubois, I was hooked. I found the story of Mary Turner while researching materials for the 1943 project. Walter White returned to Georgia to investigate the lynching rampage and to gather information and find witnesses. He conducted the most comprehensive investigation into the subject at the time. His work resulted in letters to the governor, Hugh Dorsey, a list of people who participated in the lynchings, and a witness, who failed to come forward after months of persuasion. White was born in 1893 in Atlanta and died in 1955.

Both of white’s parents were born into slavery and like Walter, his father could have passed for white. In 1918 he joined the NAACP, this investigation in Valdosta was one of his first assignments. He came into town at first posing as a salesman. With his blue eyes and blonde hair and his natural southern accent he blended easily with the locals. His account of the lynching rampage in The Crisis is one of the most comprehensive histories of what happened in 1918.

Another source of information is the wonderful book by Julie Armstrong Mary Turner and the Memory of Lynching published in 2011 by the University of Georgia Press. Also the fabulous Mary Turner Project put together by community members and faculty and staff at Valdosta State University (http://www.maryturner.org/). So I want to clarify that unlike some of my other graphic narrative projects I have not done first hand archival research. I have literally crouched on the shoulders of giants for this project. In some ways this was a relief that I could just focus on the images. I have spent months and years in archives for some of my other pieces and to only think of images and not have to do anything other than read what others had written was a joy. I often work not in singular images but in serial images that link and connect to each other. This lends itself to projects that are best enjoyed as books. Books unlike art exhibits are portable and they can be returned to in intimate moments and in the privacy of one’s own home. I am not fond of the digital with regard to sequential stories, I much prefer an object you can hold. I hope to turn these images into a book; Julie Buckner Armstrong, a generous colleague and the author of Mary Turner and the Memory of Lynching has agreed to write the introduction. She knows far more about this story than me.

As an artist I believe that art can create an opportunity for our social imaginations to stretch. Maxine Greene wrote: “[O]f all our cognitive capacities, imagination is the one that permits us to give credence to alternative realities. It allows us to break with the taken for granted, to set aside familiar distinctions and definitions.”(Releasing the Imagination Pg. 3)

For more information about the performance see the following links:

http://littlevillagemag.com/an-elegy-for-mary-turner-aims-to-encourage-dialogue-about-race-and-violence/

https://www.press-citizen.com/story/opinion/contributors/guest-editorials/2017/08/18/white-supremacy-unfortunate-part-our-history/581939001/

http://www.englert.org/event/elegy-mary-turner/

 

Text from Spoken Word Performance

Performance Sites: The Englert, October, 2017, The Roosevelt University Theater in Chicago for Imaging America, November 2018 The University of Iowa Faculty Show, 240, Art Building West, November 2018.

I

It could have been any black man in the county.

 

It could have been any black man in the county…

A bone to pick

To pick and pick and pick

Acres and acres of Sea Island Cotton

To harvest

Before it is devoured by the hungry bol weevils eating their way north

Anthonomus grandis

 

1918

A war to end all wars

 

Money made from sweat and pain and stooping in the fields

Money made on the backs of others

So few choices, cotton or tobacco or peanuts in the flat lands of Georgia

Wear it, smoke it, eat it

The fecund coastal plains

Dirt in every crease, live oaks, resurrection ferns, rain showers,       and heat

Valle d’Aosta

 

 

Toothy rodents, deer flies, may flies, dragon flies, oily roaches, lacy winged mosquitos,  

swarming fire ants,

Biting in mysterious union like one organism

Yellow fields, ruts in the road, palmetto thickets, loblolly pines, Spanish moss, turgid puddles and ponds choked by duckweed

Dirt rich with meaty grubs white and round

Opossums and raccoons at night

Scavenging, foraging, picking their way through the undergrowth, in rubbish bins, on porches and in sheds with nasty quiet feet.

Rattlesnakes, cotton mouths, and coral snakes

Red touches yellow kills a fellow!

Beware of Dark corners, wood piles, hollow logs, and empty boots.

Black widows and the brown recluse

Violins and hourglasses

Cannibalistic lovers

 

It could have been any black man in the county.

It could have been one or three or ten

Average height, black, male

Unnamed, named, known, unknown

Lynched

Human torch

Human target

Swinging like a smoked ham in a tree

 

Towed behind a car

Cut

Beaten

Strangled

Disappeared

Dismembered

Raped

Known, unknown, unnamed

Drowning, dragging, shooting, stabbing, burning, and beating

4075 victims of “racial terror lynchings” in 12 Southern states from 1877 to 19501

It could have been any black man in the county.

 

Atavistic brutes, sexual predators, super predators, “natural” criminals

Beastly instincts

Keep those white women safe so they can bake pies and raise babies, but never hell.

Miscegenation, the ultimate fear

Sons of Ham

Rutting around like wild boars

 

Mixing of the races forbidden, unnatural

Unless it was for profit

For pleasure

For control

For punishment

To satisfy the baser urges of white men

 

II

It could have been any black many in the county

But a woman? A [black] woman? Whose black woman?

Mary Turner

#Say her name, Mary Turner

Negress

Mary Turner

Woman or property?

Mary Turner

a Woman or a beast

Thomas Jefferson once  wrote:

Blacks’ own judgment in favour of the whites, declared by their preference of them, as uniformly as is the preference of the Oranootan for the black women over those of his own species.2

 

Mary Turner was not a beast

Or Jezebel, or Sapphire, or Mammy

Mary Turner was a woman, a black woman

Like a hog, all the parts could be enjoyed

 

But not Mrs. Hampton Smith, white woman, an angel of the house,

his house

Wife of Mr. Hampton Smith her name given away in marriage

To one man, a white man, sacrosanct

 

It was a large plantation worked by men who could not pay their debts.

Magnolias, gardenias, tea roses, monkey grass, and lilies

Hired by a man, a gentleman who could not find “help” the easy way

His reputation so soured by the years of violence in his blood.

Georgia Cracker

Cracking the whip, cracking his knuckles, cracking skulls

Sweaty black backs for sale, for bond, for petty crimes

Slavery by a different name

Chattel

Sons and grandsons of slaves

Property of the county jail for lease

Human real estate

Picking rocks, picking fights

 

He picked a fight.

 

But shoot a white woman?

A monolithic god-filled vessel of purest creation

White on white

Mrs. Hampton Smith

In a “delicate” condition

Mrs. Hampton Smith

Shot through the window

Mrs. Hampton Smith

With her husband’s Winchester

He was 25 and dead

in their bedroom, Mr. Hampton Smith

by a bullet from his own gun

“For all who draw the sword will die by the sword”

Black on white say goodnight

It could have been any black man in the county.

 

Did she recline bleeding in the creek or hide behind a log?

Were pieces of her dress scattered on the ground or did she use her apron to staunch the blood?

Red on White don’t die tonight

 

Did she flee the Old Joyce Place on foot?

How many had fled on foot before her?

Escaping violence, the whites of their eyes rolling back in their wet sockets looking over their shoulders with fear

Fight or flight

 

Were there desire paths through the woods, through the fields, filled with rabbits, white tailed does, wild turkeys, and mourning doves?

Did she listen for quail calls?

Did dead trees show the way?

Did she follow the river?

 

But shoot a white woman?

Mrs. Hampton Smith

Her condition was delicate…

 

Whites say…

She was raped, she was brutalized, she was very pregnant.

She ran away.

She lay in the creek for hours until she was revived.

Baptized in fear by blood and muddy water

She hid behind a log.

She ran to her nearest neighbors.

Good negroes helped her, a white woman, an angel of the house, a widow, a victim, Mrs. Hampton Smith

Whites say,

“It could have been any black man in this county!”

 

III

Word spread like the Spanish Flu

In the night air

Humid and soft

Still and festering

Mouth to ear to mouth to ear

Fetid breath

Brooks County to Loundes County

Poisoning the waters of the Little River

Whispered by the Spanish moss, and swamp gas

Seeping over bridges, across tables,

Under cotton crazy quilts made of old work shirts and cotton house dresses soaked in sweat  

Patched until they were threadbare

Whites say,

“The Black Terror is armed and dangerous!”

Whites say,

“Justice must prevail, we must keep law and order!”

It could have been any black man in the county.

Whites say,

“It was a conspiracy, they gathered, they had guns!”

Whites say,

“It was the Huns!”

 

Fever took hold on the first night

Snakes crawling in the dark

The air thick with the leg songs of crickets and katydids

Tiny red Chiggers, black fleas, and grey deer ticks fat with blood quietly sucking

Hiding in the swamp

Hiding in plain sight

It could have been any black man in the county

 

Let not the sun go down on your wrath in a sundown town

 

IV

Morning light on the wet grass and gravel

Gnatcatchers, catbirds, fly catchers, cowbirds, sap suckers and mourning doves

Walker hounds and beagles eating last night’s table scraps

Women cutting biscuit dough with lard and mason jars

 

Will Head is the first black man to die

He suffers in the afternoon heat

Blackberry thickets drone, briars everywhere

He climbed the tree, rope around his neck and jumped

What choices was he given?

White men with guns

 

Will Thompson is the second

They swing together from trees in Troupeville, Georgia in the cooling evening air

Janus headed horror

White men with guns

Fire round, after round, after round, after round, after round

Safety off, red you are dead

 

Julius Jones was the last to die

He hung alone in the woods in the dark

Friday night

 

Mr. Hampton Smith is laid to rest in Pauline Cemetery

His grave marked by a tall white obelisk

 

V

Saturday night

White men with guns

White men with badges

Seize Hayes Turner

Mr. Hampton Smith, dead as a doorbell now-- he beat Mary Turner

Did he beat his wife too?

He beat Mary Turner.

Whose woman? Whose property? Woman or beast?

Hayes Turner spent time in jail

He sought vengeance for his bride

His wife, the woman he loved

Like any man in the county

She had, after all birthed and nursed and raised their two children

Her body swollen-evidence of their recent union

A summer baby

No man could should beat her like a beast

Mary Turner

But they did, Smith did

A white man

Mr. Hampton Smith

Whites say, “But it’s different…”

She was

Not like a white woman

Not like their angels

White marble in church yards

Frozen without agency

Whites say,

“It’s different, they are different, they don’t feel pain like we do…”

 

White men with guns

White men with guns and badges

Sanctioned by the state to use violence

Move Hayes Turner from one jail to another

Mary Turner is frantic. She knows what happens to black men in jail.

 

Whites say with rolling eyes and smirks,

“They moved him from Quitman to Moultrie;

            For his own protection.”

But why? To protect him? From what from who?

 

Blacks talk in houses and churches

Eyes up

Eyes down

They have seen this before

White anger, white dominion, white law

Palimpsest hiding black codes

 

Waves of heat bend the road

Too hot for snakes, too hot to move quickly

Did the white law men know their car would be surrounded?

Were they as frightened as Hayes Turner?

Did their eyes roll? Did they smile, yellow teeth shiny with tobacco juice

Lips stained brown

Did they pantomime, bluster, acquiesce, or roll down the window

“Howdy boys, funny meeting you here…” wink, wink

 

White men with guns

White men with badges

At the fork in the road

 

Drop a fork and a man will come visit you

Cuffs still circled his wrists

White men with badges

 

He hung in that tree for two days

A sign of white power

He hung in that tree for two days

Dominion through violence

He hung in that tree for two days

White men with badges

White men with guns

 

Deliver me from the hand of my enemy

 

He swung until Monday morning by the banks of Ocapilco Creek

Let the church crowds view his body

White men and white women and white children

Meandering by in their Sunday best

Pulled in buggies, horses straining against the heat and flies

 

Black men and black women, and black children stayed in their homes, in the shadows, stay out of the light, stay out of their sight

 

Two hands in handcuffs and a rope around his elongated neck

Law and order

Never forget dominion was the natural order after all

It could be any black man in the county

 

There would be no third day, no resurrection for Hayes Turner

His body cut down and buried by convicts

Did they save the handcuffs?

Relish the irony?

White on Black can’t take it back

 

VI

Was the next man Eugene Rice?

 

Saturday afternoon at the Old Camp Ground?

Why? What did he do?

 

It could have been any black man in the county

Unknown, known, unnamed, named

 

Or black woman…

Mary Turner eight months pregnant

Gravida 3 Para 2

Bitter anger

Mary Turner said loudly

“If I knew the parties in the mob I would swear out warrants for their arrest!”

 

They were known

They heard her declaration

Mary Turner

 

Farmers

Barkers

The undertaker of Quitman

An agent for Standard Oil Company

A post office clerk

An employee at Griffin Furniture Company

 

Mr. Hampton Smith had four brothers who joined in

 

Vengence is mine sayeth the lord… an eye for an eye

They could be any white man in the county

 

White men with guns

White men with jobs

White men with land

Known, named

 

But shame and guilt were nothing

White guilt baking pies, slopping hogs, and making deals

 

Her husband knew nothing about the crime

Her talk enraged them

Mary Turner

 

Them

White men with guns

A black woman, no one’s woman now

Mary Turner

Like a hog all the parts could be enjoyed

 

In a car with white men to Folsom’s Bridge

A Sunday drive over the Little River

Probably past Hayes Turner’s body

once her body

His hands held fast behind his back with handcuffs

She knew those hands, every crease, every scar

Those hands had caressed her swollen belly and her smooth cheek

Those hands had held the hands of their children

They once traced her stretch marks eagerly, a pale map of love and life

 

Tie her by the ankles!

Hang her in a tree!

Set her clothes on fire!

Were scraps of worn cotton scattered on the ground beneath her blistered head?

A human torch

Baby in her belly {32 weeks ago she was with Hayes Turner in their tiny bed

His body, her body, her body, his body}

 

Frantic baby kicks on the surface of her swollen womb blistered with fire

Like a hog all the parts could be enjoyed

Slit her open from navel to stern!

Like a hog

 

But the child who is born on the Sabbath day

Is bonnie and blithe and good and gay3

 

Lying in the dirt baptized by blood and fire

The child cried out

Baby Turner

Fragile baby never felt skin-to-skin

Only skin to dirt

Baby ears, tiny hands, nails as thin as paper

Two small human cries

Shame and guilt were nothing

Skull like a fragile sea shell, a translucent Scotch Bonnet, crowned by tiny black curls

 

Crushed by a boot

Like a lowly beetle

Like a hog killing, all the parts of the ritual would be enjoyed

 

Her body, her womb, her arms empty-no one’s woman now

Mary Turner

riddled with bullets until she was unrecognizable

 

Mother and child buried like refuse in the sandy dirt

Like tainted offal

Just feet

From the tree that bore the marks of their torment

A whiskey bottle plugged with an old cigar

A sick joke

White men with guns taught her a lesson

Mary Turner

No one’s woman now

 

VII

The blood thirst of white supremacy is never satisfied

Violence begets violence

Within the week

Three bodies in the Little River

Rise to the surface

And then

Disappear again

Unknown, unnamed, unclaimed

It could have been any black man in the county

 

Chime Riley tried to flee

He could feel that they were coming

Lynched instead of leaving

Hidden in the river

White men with guns

Weighed down their dirty work, their guilt, their dark pleasure, their violence

Weighed down his body, with cracked turpentine cups

Souvenirs for the people coming after, looking for a trace of murder on the surface of the brown water-seeing only their complicit reflection

Innocent afternoon distraction, just poking around, gathering mussel shells

Slip down by the river to see what can’t be seen

Mud and silt shifting sandbars

Covering and uncovering secrets with every full moon

Pollywogs and water walkers

Snapping turtles, red eared sliders, snails, freshwater eels, minnows, and cotton mouth nests

 

It could have been any black man in the county

 

Simon Schulman was never found again

White men with guns approached his house after dark

Hiding their participation, hunting their prey, a man not an animal

They smashed his wooden furniture to bits like kindling wood

Broken chairs

Broken dishes

There was no fire-- just shards of fear

His family fled

Did they look back as

White men took him?

Their father, or brother, or son, or lover

White men with guns

No grave, no body

Unknown, unnamed, unmarked

Just blood and soil

 

VIII

Sidney Johnson, age 19, killer of Mr. Hampton Smith

A black man with two guns--the most “dangerous” kind

Was hiding in plain sight at his home in Valdosta

Not in the swamps

Not by the river

Not behind a log or in a tree

White men with guns

White men with badges

Eyes blinded by white hate

 

A shotgun and a revolver

7 chances

A Black man with two guns

 

His house surrounded

White men with guns

White men with badges

He pledged to fight

Shot to death through the windows of his home

Black on white won’t take me tonight

 

White men with guns did not enjoy his death

Enough

They would have their fun

Like a hog all the parts would be enjoyed

Unsex him with a knife

Remove that which threatens whites the most and throw it in the road for all to see

Tie his black body to the bumper of a car

And drag him down the main street in Valdosta

 

A warning

 

Out to the country away from white eyes on main street busy cooling pies and making deals, feeding dogs, and cleaning windows

Watching the carnage side eyed, some smile, some turn away

 

Untie the bloody man like a red rag tied behind a car

And wait for sundown

Cinders and lightning bugs against the dark sky

Fat crackling and bones splitting with the heat

Marrow bubbles

Until there is nothing left

White faces glowing orange

White ash

He was the last

            For a while

 

IX

The summer wore on without mercy

Heat collected on the porches of small empty houses

ceilings painted a hopeful blue like the sky

Cat Sawbrier climbing across broken fences

Fields filling with bitter sneezeweed

Blacks said,

“Let the bol weevil’s fill their bellies with the last cotton crop!”

“Let the botflies lay their eggs in the backs of baby rabbits!”

“Let the berries rot, their dogs starve, and the weeds grow thick!”

 

Black people slipping away in the night

Black workers with their laboring bodies

Mothers and babies and fathers moving north

Turning their backs on the crop-laden fields filled with histories of fear and blood

 

Perhaps the whole county will fill with frogs, the fish will die, biting insects will descend, disease will spread among the horses, cows, chickens and pigs, their white skin will erupt with boils, there will be locusts and then the curse of darkness…

 

X

 

Black passing for white

Hiding in plain sight

Found it out

Wrote it down

Sent it north

Their gums flapped in cafes and barbershops; bragged about what they had done

He just smiled and listened; his blue eyes sparkled

He had perfected the shuck and jive

Walter White

 

The governor, Hugh Dorsey

White man elected to keep things in order

The “Natural” Order

of White Supremacy White Dominion

He said,

“I believe that if the negroes would exert their ultimate influence

with the criminal element of their race and stop rapes that it would go a long way toward stopping lynchings.” 4

 

Black on Black

White fantasy

 

No black man eve raped Mrs. Hampton Smith, the pregnant widow.

Her baby born like every landed white man in the county.

No boot upon their head, no dirt, no fire, no men with guns

Swaddled in a blanket of cotton

Swaddled in power and privilege

Mother’s milk

Skin-on-skin

White on white

 

 

Footnotes:

1.     Equal Justice Institute. Lynching in America: Confronting the Legacy of Racial Terror. (Montgomery, Alabama, 2015) 5.

2.     Benjamin Schwartz, “What Jefferson Helps to Explain,” The Atlantic. March, 1997, (https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/1997/03/what-jefferson-helps-to-explain/376800/)

 

3.     Unknown. “Monday’s Child.” First published in A. E. Bray's Traditions of Devonshire (Volume II, pp. 287–288) 1838.

 

4.     Personal correspondence from Governor Hugh Dorsey to John R. Shilladay of the NAACP, November 19, 1918. (http://www.maryturner.org/images/Dorsey.pdf).

 ______________________________________________________________

Valdosta State University purchased the entire portfolio of prints associated with this project in 2017. The work was displayed in 2018.

 

http://www.walb.com/story/37519245/vsu-presents-mary-turner-lynching-exhibit

https://www.valdosta.edu/about/news/releases/2018/02/vsu-presents-mary-turner-and-the-lynching-rampage-art-exhibit-feb.-15-march-31.php

 Dr. Deborah Davis, Rachel Williams, and Julie Bowland at Valdosta State University

Dr. Deborah Davis, Rachel Williams, and Julie Bowland at Valdosta State University

 Processing the performance with Dancer and Choreographer Dr. Christopher Rasheem McMillan at Roosevelt University, October 20,2018 (Image taken by Wendy Miller)

Processing the performance with Dancer and Choreographer Dr. Christopher Rasheem McMillan at Roosevelt University, October 20,2018 (Image taken by Wendy Miller)

Run Home If You Don't Want To Be Killed: The Detroit Race Riot of 1943

This year I am going to wrap up a five year research project about the 1943 Detroit Riots. The final product will be published in 2015 as a graphic novel, Run Home If You Don't Want To Be Killed: The Detroit Race Riot of 1943, by University North Carolina Press and the Duke Center for Documentary Studies.

 Run home if you don’t want to be killed: The Detroit Riot of 1943 is a graphic history based on a series of events that led to the worst race riot in 1943 in the United States. This graphic history is a hybrid text composed of stories, history, and images; it is designed to challenge people’s assumptions about, race, culture, and violence in the United States during World War II. In 1943 there were approximately 242 disturbances that were racially motivated in 48 different cities throughout the country. The riot that occurred in Detroit was the worst from that year. 

In the story of Detroit in 1943 the unfolding events of the riot offer an image of the social, economic, and cultural pressures that gave way to violence at the end of World War II and the beginning of the American Civil Rights movement. The lack of decent housing, racist rhetoric, police brutality, chivalry, and lack of organization for newly arriving workers created a firestorm of violence. This was compounded by the double standard of governmental efforts during World War II to achieve freedom from oppression abroad while still maintaining a racist system of apartheid in the United States. In Detroit, of the 185 wartime plants 55 of them would hire no African Americans. The police force in Detroit was made up of 3400 officers; only 43 were black.

In the wake of the riot the official report co-authored by the Detroit Police Commissioner blamed only African Americans for the disturbance (Langlois, 1983). The entire country had been watching the powder keg of Detroit, the nation’s fourth largest city at the time, for over a year. Everyone knew that sooner or later there would be a major racial disturbance, yet nothing was done. Even after the riot began, the municipal government would not declare martial law or call in the National Guard until nearly 30 hours of terror had passed.

The 1943 Detroit riot is a significant story. This was the most violent and largest riot that took place during World War II. The unguarded racism, economic competition between blacks and whites, and the ways that our country shifted as a result of urban opportunities and capitalism are invisible in most popular depictions of World War II. The riots during World War II signaled the beginning of an organized racial sea change. In Detroit they came on the heels of Dr. Ossian Sweet’s struggle over discriminatory housing practices, the Sojourner Truth Housing Project debacle, and prior to another giant riot in 1967 known as the 12th street riot.

There are many scholarly books, which mention the Detroit Race Riot of 1943, like The Origins of The Urban Crisis: Race and Inequality in Post War Detroit by Thomas Sugrue (Princeton University Press) but only a handful explore it as a subject worthy of lengthy scholarly analysis. The most recent titles include, Layered Violence: The Detroit Rioters by Dominic J. Capeci Jr and Martha Wilkerson (1991) published by the University Press of Mississippi, Alfred McClung Lee and Norman Humphrey’s original account, Race Riot and later expanded version also named Race Riot published respectively in 1943 (The Dryden Press) and in 1968 (Octagon Books), also A Study in Violence: The Detroit Race Riot by Robert Shogan and Tom Craig, published in 1964 by Chilton Company. There have also been numerous articles that focus on various subjects tied to the riot including rumor, gender, police violence, and the typology of riots.

The form of the graphic narrative would allow this text to re-populate the imaginations of readers with images and stories that are historical, political, and aesthetic. While the form of a graphic narrative is too short to allow for a deep written explanation of new scholarship on the riot, this text can offer a rich reading experience about the nexus of class, race, and gender, through a compelling story of historical significance. The images within the text offer a glimpse into life and culture in 1943, embody stories with history and images of those who lived through it, and include some never before published photographs from the Detroit Free Press and hundreds of original drawings. This cutting-edge approach would add to the existing scholarship on this event by illuminating the voices of women who were affected, and by interpreting the event through images, text, story, and design in a way that has never been attempted by other scholars. Images and design provide rich details to readers on multiple levels beyond what text alone can say. Events in a single experience can be placed on one page interrupting the traditional chronology. According to Alyson King (2012),                For historical narratives, then, a graphic architecture:

opens the door for new configurations of the relationship between chronology, narrative line, and time-sequence. The two-dimensionality of the comics page can be used to allow a single group of panels to be read simultaneously in more than one linear sequence, calling into question the very idea of a single narrative line. (Said, 2007)

The graphic novel and comic formats, therefore, disrupt and undermine the linear and chronological way in which historical narratives have usually been told.