The image is a black and white photograph showing a couple of black men who are hanging on a tree. Below the lynched men is a crowd of white men, women, and children. The hung men are of course dead, and the group seems to be responsible for the action since they are seen looking at the photographer suggestively. Some of the members of the mob are laughing while one man is seen pointing at the dead men to signify a warning. The occasion however seemingly terrifies a number of the onlookers. The photo was at a time when there was limited light since the background vegetation looks engraved in darkness. People and objects in the picture also seem illuminated, for example, the faces and clothes worn by photo members look shiny signifying light reflection. The members of the crowd are also seen dressed in light clothing suggesting that during the time of the image capturing, the weather was warm. Looking at the image's center of attraction, the lynched men, their bodies look soaked in blood suggesting prior severe beating before the hanging. The hanging tree seems to be of average age not exceeding fifty years.
The photographer of the image took the image from the left side of the scene. A critical look the photo shows that the cameraman used an elevation angle to capture the image. It is possible that whoever took this image must have been as close as possible to the ground probably at knee point to catch both the crowd and the hanged men. The camera used had a flashlight that illuminated the objects captured. The camera focus was at the bodies on the top of the tree; therefore, anything close to it caught in more excellent details compared with the background.
Digging through the history of the images of lynching, the photo, captured in August 1930, was taken outside a jail in Indiana. The victims of the lynching are Abe Smith and Tom Shipp. Before the lynching, civilians were shouting outside the prison demanding for the release of three prisoners, two of them now hang while the third one released due to a member of the crowd who certified he was innocent. The two men were accused of killing a white man and raping a white woman. The crimes, especially rape of a white by a black was the worst thing in the American community, and hundreds of people were loathing outside with anger.They broke down the doors of the jail where they beat Smith and Shipp to near death. The duo was later hanged ruthlessly by being placed a noose at their necks and lifted up on the tree. One of the victims tried to flee from the rope, but they brought him down, broke both his hands and hauled the man back again.
The dead men remained hung outside the jail for many hours, bringing in many onlookers including Law Beitler who took a photograph. The photo became one of the most popular lynching images and sold many copies. In fact, it took ten full days to print the images on demand.
The third youth in jail, James Cameron, who narrowly missed lynching from disclaiming by an unidentified person in the mob got deported to another town where he was sentenced for four years on grounds to aid murder. He later became an anti-lynching advocate starting in Indiana then Wisconsin where he began a museum. He records the lynching day in his autobiography calling it "A Time of Terror." Until his death on June 11, 2006, at 92 years, he lived to believe an angel's voice came from the crowd to save him.
Bernard, Phyllis E. "Eliminationist discourse in a conflicted society: Lessons for America from Africa." Marq. L. Rev. 93 (2009): 173.
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