American still life
The post-civil war period in the United States saw a sharp increase in violence against African Americans, particularly in the South. Lynching, a form of extrajudicial punishment by hanging, was a prevalent form of violence against the black population. The act of lynching, which was intended to intimidate and terrorize black communities, was often carried out by white mobs who took the law into their own hands. These mobs believed that they were upholding white supremacy and preserving the racial hierarchy of the South.
The barbaric practice of lynching was not only a form of physical violence, but it was also a symbolic act of racial terror. The lynchings were often carried out in public spaces, with the perpetrators displaying the mutilated bodies of their victims as a warning to other African Americans. These acts of violence were often seen as acts of social control, as they aimed to maintain the racial hierarchy and white supremacy in the South. Lynching was particularly prevalent in rural areas where black communities were most vulnerable and lacked the protection of the law.
Lynchings were not only accepted but were also commercialized in the South. Photographs taken of lynchings were sold as postcards in souvenir shops, alongside post-mortem trophies such as bone fragments, hair, and ears. These gruesome objects were seen as souvenirs for tourists, a way to commemorate the act of violence and terror inflicted upon African Americans. The fact that these postcards and objects were sold in shops highlights the normalization of violence against black people during this period.
Southern trees bear a strange fruit,
Blood on the leaves and blood at the root,
Black bodies swinging in the Southern breeze,
Strange fruit hanging from the poplar trees.
Pastoral scene of the gallant South,
The bulging eyes and the twisted mouth,
Scent of magnolia, sweet and fresh,
Then the sudden smell of burning flesh!
Here is a fruit for the crows to pluck,
For the rain to gather, for the wind to suck,
For the sun to rot, for the trees to drop,
Here is a strange and bitter crop.
- Bitter Fruit, Abel Meeropol, 1937