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Exhibition features research on racial terror and its effect on the nation today
Sara Softness, assistant curator special project, speaks standing next to an artwork which is part of "The Legacy of Lynching: Confronting Racial Terror in America" exhibition, at the Brooklyn Museum in New York on July 25, 2017. Jewel SAMAD / AFP.


BROOKLYN, NY.- The Brooklyn Museum joins forces with the Equal Justice Initiative (EJI), headed by acclaimed public interest lawyer and MacArthur Foundation “genius grant” recipient Bryan Stevenson, and Google to present a timely exhibition: The Legacy of Lynching: Confronting Racial Terror in America. On view from July 26 through September 3, the exhibition presents EJI’s groundbreaking research on the history of racial violence in the United States and its continuing impact on our nation to this day.

The exhibition will include video stories featuring testimonies from descendants of lynching victims and a former death-row inmate directly affected by the legacy of lynching, a short documentary, photographs, an interactive map presenting EJI’s research, and informational videos featuring Bryan Stevenson. Much of EJI’s research on display in the Museum can be viewed at lynchinginamerica.eji.org, an interactive platform that EJI recently launched, with support from Google, that digitizes their research on the more than four thousand racial terror lynchings of African Americans between 1877 and 1950. This work underscores the profound effects of the racial terror committed against black people and black communities, which continue to shape our nation today.

To deepen the conversation, a team of Brooklyn Museum curators selected more than a dozen artworks from its collections by African American artists whose practices respond to racism in the United States in several forms. Artists include Sanford Biggers, Mark Bradford, Elizabeth Catlett, Melvin Edwards, Theaster Gates, Rashid Johnson, Titus Kaphar, Jacob Lawrence, Glenn Ligon, Dread Scott, Clarissa T. Sligh, Kara Walker, and Jack Whitten.

The exhibition also presents materials from the Museum Library and Archives on the institution’s support for efforts against lynching. They include a 1935 pledge by Museum Director Philip N. Youtz supporting an NAACP anti-lynching art exhibition as well as documents from a benefit art auction and exhibition for the NAACP Legal Defense Fund that the Museum hosted in 1963. More recently, the Museum presented Bryan Stevenson in a conversation with death-row exoneree Anthony Ray Hinton—whose story is featured in the exhibition—in 2016, as part of the ongoing program “States of Denial: The Illegal Incarceration of Women, Children, and People of Color,” organized by Elizabeth A. Sackler and the Elizabeth A. Sackler Center for Feminist Art at the Brooklyn Museum. The Museum has also held numerous exhibitions on related topics, including Witness: Art and Civil Rights in the Sixties, Agitprop!, and Sanford Biggers, among others, as well as We Wanted a Revolution: Black Radical Women, 1965–85, currently on view.

By highlighting the historical impact of systemic racism in our country, the exhibition is conceived to raise awareness for EJI’s forthcoming Memorial to Peace and Justice in Montgomery, Alabama. Opening in 2018, the memorial will be the country’s first ever national monument to commemorate the more than four thousand black men, women, and children who were lynched between 1877 and 1950. EJI also plans to open an accompanying museum of racial justice that will trace a direct line between slavery and the practice of mass incarceration.

To approach this topic respectfully, the exhibition focuses on personal stories. It does not contain explicit photos. In order to appropriately acknowledge the subject of racial violence with the utmost care and sensitivity, the Museum will provide a space outside the gallery for visitors to explore reading material and to reflect.

“Our nation’s history of racial injustice casts a shadow across the American landscape. This shadow cannot be lifted until we shine the light of truth on the destructive violence that shaped our nation, traumatized people of color, and compromised our commitment to the rule of law and equal justice,” said EJI Executive Director Bryan Stevenson. “We all must engage this history more honestly.”

Mr. Stevenson continues, “Art has always been a powerful tool in getting a society to think more honestly about human rights and human dignity. Our great artists have often found critically important ways to speak truthfully about history and the human condition. It’s energizing to take on a difficult topic like racial terrorism surrounded by the bold insights of brilliant African American artists.”

Anne Pasternak, the Brooklyn Museum’s Shelby White and Leon Levy Executive Director, states, “When Bryan Stevenson and Google approached us in late May to co-produce this exhibition, we didn’t hesitate. Throughout its nearly two-hundred-year history, the Brooklyn Museum has never shied away from difficult but important conversations—the very conversations our audiences are having every day— including racial exclusion and inequality. We are proud to work with the Equal Justice Initiative in its fight to confront America’s painful past in order to educate and heal, and to contribute to a more empathetic and just society.”

The Legacy of Lynching: Confronting Racial Terror in America has been assembled and organized by a team of Brooklyn Museum curators, librarian and archivist, educators, and designers in collaboration with the Equal Justice Initiative and Google.






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