Living with Lynching
African American Lynching Plays, Performance, and Citizenship, 1890-1930
Publication Year: 2011
Published by: University of Illinois Press
Series: The New Black Studies Series
Title Page, Copyright, Dedication
This project has been with me most of my adult life, so it has required endurance, but I have consistently benefited from the support of institutions that saw the work’s potential. As a graduate student, I received encouragement in the form of a fellowship from the David Driskell Center for the Study of the African Diaspora. ...
Introduction: Whose Evidence? Which Account?
When we hear the word “lynching,” most of us think of a hanging body, what Billie Holiday famously called “strange fruit.” This image has recently become even more powerful as the pictures produced by mobs have reentered circulation, usually as part of an effort to educate the public about an often-ignored chapter in U.S. history. ...
Part I: Making Lynching Drama and Its Contributions Legible
1. Scenes and Scenarios: Reading Aright
The unique genre of lynching drama survives to enhance our understanding of U.S. culture between 1890 and 1930. During these decades, racial violence was often understood as a way of removing evil from society. Mainstream discourses and practices encouraged this interpretation, ...
2. Redefining “Black Theater”
The archive of black-authored lynching plays began with Angelina Weld Grimké’s turn away from poetry and fiction to drama.1 By 1914, Grimké was crafting and revising the play now known as Rachel. The historical moment in which Grimké labored over her first full-length drama was marked not only by the prevalence of lynching ...
Part II: Developing a Genre, Asserting Black Citizenship
3. The Black Soldier: Elevating Community Conversation
Lynching drama proliferated because playwrights maximized periodical culture to contribute to a community conversation that accommodated diverse perspectives. Long before appearing in print, Angelina Weld Grimké’s Rachel inspired debate when it was produced in Washington, D.C., in 1916. ...
4. The Black Lawyer: Preserving Testimony
As they continued to write lynching plays, black women authors preserved African Americans’ perspectives on themselves and their communities. One-act revisions within the genre initially depicted the upstanding character of the race by showcasing the black soldier, but it was not long before the black lawyer became the centerpiece of conversations ...
5. The Black Mother/Wife: Negotiating Trauma
In all conversations about lynching and citizenship, including those centered on the soldier and lawyer, black women were crucial. Because mobs so often negated black citizenship by targeting men, African American women routinely survived the physical attack and were left to face a forever-altered future. ...
6. The Pimp and Coward: Offering Gendered Revisions
Lynching plays by African American women preserve a remarkable diversity of opinion, but considering black men’s contributions to this unique genre reveals additional variety. Black men began writing lynching plays in 1925,1 several years after Angelina Weld Grimké initiated the genre, and Alice Dunbar-Nelson and Mary Burrill began revising it.2 ...
Conclusion: Documenting Black Performance: Key Considerations
Novelist Pauline Hopkins,1 quoted above, argued in 1900 for the value of writing fiction even when crises, such as mob violence, demanded African Americans’ attention. She insisted that creative writing preserved the race’s religious, political, and social customs by depicting the “inmost thoughts and feelings” of members of the group. ...