February 7, 2018

VSU Presents Mary Turner and the Lynching Rampage Art Exhibit Feb. 15-March 31

VALDOSTA — Valdosta State University’s Archives and Special Collections will present Mary Turner and the Lynching Rampage Feb. 15-March 31 in Odum Library’s William Mobley Reading Room.

The display of ink images, created by pressing woodcarvings onto paper, depicts a string of lynchings that took place in May 1918 in Lowndes and Brooks counties. The only known female victim was 20-year-old Mary Turner, who was eight months pregnant at the time.

The artist, Rachel Marie-Crane Williams, will discuss her artwork and the history of lynchings at 3 p.m. on Thursday, Feb. 15, in the Odum Library Auditorium. The talk will be followed by an opening reception in the William Mobley Reading Room. Refreshments will be served. The event is free of charge and open to the public.

“My aims in this work are to link a historical story to the social and personal empathy of viewers,” said Williams, who spent almost a year creating the exhibit. “Beyond an initial experience of empathy, recognition, or repulsion, I hope this work pushes audiences to ask, How do people who are vulnerable because of their identity — for example, their race, class, citizenship status, sexual orientation, or gender — continue to needlessly suffer, even today? What structures are in place that make their lives worse? What can we change?”

Below each image are writings — penned by hand using a quill feather and homemade ink — that tell the story of the 1918 lynchings. Williams referenced multiple sources while creating the exhibit, including Walter White’s “The Work of a Mob,” an account of the lynchings published in September 1918; Julie Armstrong’s “Mary Turner and the Memory of Lynching,” published in 2011; and the research of The Mary Turner Project, a group based in South Georgia.

“Lynching is a somewhat hidden part of our history,” said Deborah Davis, director of VSU Archives and Special Collections. “These lynchings happened right here, right on the border between Brooks and Lowndes counties. The last victim of the 1918 lynchings was dragged down Patterson Street behind a car. This exhibit is powerful and tells a local story through the universal medium of art.”

The 1918 lynching rampage began when Sydney Johnson, a black man, shot and killed Hampton Smith, a white plantation owner from Brooks County accused of regularly beating and abusing his workers. A mob of hundreds began searching for Johnson and others who were allegedly involved in the murder. At least 11 people were lynched that week, including Turner’s husband. When Turner spoke out against the violent killings, the mob came for her. The angry crowd took her to the Brooks County/Lowndes County border, tied her by the ankles, and hung her upside down from a tree. They poured gasoline over her body and burned off her clothes. They cut the baby from her womb before riddling her body with gunshots. No one was ever charged in the lynchings.

A historical memorial was erected in 2010 at the site of Turner’s killing.

“Some may ask, Why bring up ‘the past’ and these atrocities now?” according to MaryTurner.org. “We should bring them up to acknowledge the lives lost, along with the reality that no justice has ever occurred for the victims, their families, and so many others affected by these events. … Mary Turner's murder remains one of the most horrific crimes committed against a human being in this nation's history. … We should bring these events up so we can face our collective past in order to see how it might affect the present and the future.”

Williams is an associate professor at the University of Iowa in the Department of Gender, Women’s, and Sexuality Studies and the School of Art and Art History. She also serves as executive officer of the Department of Gender, Women’s, and Sexuality Studies. She holds a Master of Fine Arts in studio art and a Doctor of Philosophy in art education from Florida State University. Her scholarship related to incarcerated women, comics, qualitative research, and visual art has been published in a number of professional journals and other publications. Her work in the arts and humanities has earned financial support from the National Art Education Association, the Roy J. Carver Foundation, the Iowa Arts Council, The Hull House Museum in Chicago, and Humanities Iowa. She is currently working on a graphic manuscript about the 1943 riot in Detroit, Michigan, and a project about the Czecho-Slovak Legion in World War I for the National Czech and Slovak Museum and Library in Cedar Rapids, Michigan.

The Odum Library Auditorium is located on the first floor of the library. The William Mobley Reading Room is located on the fourth floor.

Mary Turner and the Lynching Rampage will remain in VSU Archives and Special Collections as a permanent acquisition. Viewing hours are 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Mondays and Thursdays, 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. on Tuesdays and Wednesdays, and 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Fridays.

Contact Deborah Davis at (229) 333-7150 or dsdavis@valdosta.edu to learn more.

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