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THE WARHOL: The Without Sanctuary Project

Without Sanctuary: Lynching Photography in America

 September 22, 2001 - December 31, 2001



The exhibition Without Sanctuary: Lynching Photography in America comprises approximately 100 photographic prints and postcards, ranging in date from 1870 to 1960, that document the history of lynching in the U.S.  These materials were collected by James Allen and John Littlefield, and remain part of the Allen/Littlefield Collection, on deposit in the Special Collections Department, Robert W. Woodruff Library, Emory University.


The exhibition was first seen last year at the Roth Horowitz Gallery in New York City, after which it moved to The New-York Historical Society.  It received overwhelming public response, and numerous museums and galleries became interested in hosting Without Sanctuary.  The Andy Warhol Museum will present another expansion of the exhibition an is the first to show this collection outside of  New York.


In the publication accompanying the exhibition, James Allen says of his collection:


Until I came upon a postcard of a lynching, postcards seemed trivial to me . . . Studying these photographs has engendered in me a caution of whites, of the majority, of the young, of religion, of the accepted.  Perhaps a certain circumspection concerning these things was already in me, but surely not as actively as after the first sight of a brittle postcard of Leo Frank dead in an oak tree.  It wasn’t the corpse that bewildered me as much as the canine-thin faces of the pack, lingering in the woods, circling after the kill . . . the photographic art played as significant a role in the ritual as torture or souvenir grabbing—creating a sort of two-dimensional biblical swine, a receptacle for a collective sinful self.  Lust propelled the commercial reproduction and distribution of the images, facilitating the endless replay of anguish.  Even dead, the victims are without sanctuary.


These images of man’s inhumanity to man have an overwhelming visceral impact.  Such strong imagery can act as a catalyst to enable viewers to move beyond traditional rhetoric towards a fuller and truer expression of collective humanity.  This project is supported in part by the Animating Democracy Initiative, a program of Americans for the Arts, funded by the Ford Foundation.


Andy Warhol himself often chose sober themes for his art, vide, his car crash, suicide, and race riot compositions.  Strong visual imagery, whether in the realm of art or in the form of a newspaper front-page photograph, has always been the most potent when it focuses on man in extreme situations.  Such images arrest us, their indelible power staying with us forever.  I encourage all of you to visit The Warhol during the run of Without Sanctuary.


Thomas Sokolowski,

Director, The Andy Warhol Museum


The Without Sanctuary Project


A museum is an answer to a fundamental question: What does it mean to be a human being?

Neil Postman

“Museum as Dialogue,”

Museum News, 1990


No museum can fully answer the question of what it means to be a human being, but the museum may provide the opportunity for a vital and relevant answer.  As an art museum and a single-artist museum in particular, The Andy Warhol Museum’s answer explores the fullness of a creative life in all its humanity and the power of imagery and art to affect and reflect our world.  The Warhol’s place as a vital forum within our community is also central to our mission.


“A picture is worth a thousand words” may be a cliched phrase, but it captures the unique ability of imagery to arrest us.  Andy Warhol recognized this power.  Many of his artworks were created using appropriated images from newspaper and magazine photographs that had powerful cultural and symbolic resonance.  Warhol also amassed collections of hundreds of press and publicity photographs.


We hope the presentation of the exhibition Without Sanctuary: Lynching Photography in America at The Warhol will provide visitors with an environment in which to view this material and will create opportunities for reflection, dialogue, and expression.  The Museum is working with individuals, communities, and organizations to explore the issues of the exhibition in a wider context and in ways that make a meaningful contribution to the dialogue on race and community relations in Pittsburgh.


Without Sanctuary is a first of its kind project at The Warhol—a confluence of resources, dialogues, and programs, and, at the center, the exhibition Without Sanctuary: Lynching Photography in America.


--Margery King, Associate Curator

Jessica Arcand, Curator of Education



Courage takes many forms… 


It was courageous of Atlanta antiques dealer James Allen to collect the shameful photographs and postcards of public hangings that comprise the book and exhibition Without Sanctuary: Lynching Photography in America.  And, I believe that it is courageous of The Andy Warhol Museum to bring this exhibition to Pittsburgh and provide a forum for community discussion of the difficult issues this subject engenders.


Historian Kenneth Milton Stampp called slavery in America the “peculiar institution.”  As an historian myself, I am interested in the many peculiar ways that slavery has marred our society throughout our past and to the present day.  This is, in part, what The Warhol hopes to confront by exhibiting these graphic photographs and encouraging community interaction and dialogue about them.  By being the first art museum in the country to do so, The Warhol is supporting Carnegie Museums of Pittsburgh’s vision of setting a national standard for integration into the communities we serve.


I urge you to take the courageous step of seeing the exhibition of photographs and taking part in the special programming surrounding Without Sanctuary at The Andy Warhol Museum.


Ellsworth H. Brown

President, Carnegie Museums of Pittsburgh



A quote from Tom S. to use early in layout:




"Lynch law" in the American landscape   (768 words)

In 1933, James Weldon Johnson (writer, activist, and Executive Secretary of the NAACP from 1916-1931) made a stunning observation in his autobiography.  Recalling a lynching that he investigated in Memphis in 1917, he wrote, "I reassembled the picture in my mind: a lone negro in the hands of his accusers, who for the time are no longer human; he is chained to a stake, wood is piled under and around him, and five thousand men and women, women with babies in their arms and women with babies in their wombs, look on with pitiless anticipation, with sadistic satisfaction while he is baptized with gasoline and set afire. The mob disperses, many of them complaining ‘They burned him too fast.’ I tried to balance the sufferings of the miserable victim against the moral degradation of Memphis, and the truth flashed over me that in large measure the race question involves the saving of black America’s body and white America’s soul."  Johnson’s conclusion was indeed compelling.  Mob violence resulted not only in the arbitrary murder of mostly black men, but also poisoned the very soul of white America and was anathema to American democracy. 


While "lynch law" was part of the American landscape for centuries, it was during the Reconstruction era that lynching came to symbolize the most virulent form of racism.   White southerners were affronted and humiliated by Reconstruction and the federal government’s control over the region. As African Americans gained political rights and pursued economic and social advancement,  a new phase of race relations began. When the final vestiges of federal troops departed in 1877, the southern "redeemers" grew increasingly committed to reestablishing the racial hierarchy that existed before the Civil War, but they no longer could count on a legally sanctioned slave system to facilitate the abject subjugation of African Americans.  The methods they utilized to reinstate "order" proved especially perilous to the region’s African-American residents. Lynching,  the ritualistic mob murder of African Americans, was rationalized by the "rape myth," or the idea that with their newly attained rights black men were seeking supremacy by sexually assaulting white women. Thus, the mob "took the law in its own hands" and meted out punishment for alleged crimes, denying the accused the rights of due process.


Between Reconstruction and 1930, around 5,000 people were victimized by lynch mobs. The overwhelming majority of victims were southern black men.  Lynching had devastating effects on the entire black community.  It served as the most effective warning of the consequences of  black advancement.  In effect, it embodied all the complexities and intricacies of American race relations: race hatred, prejudice, power, sexuality, and violence.



Despite the atmosphere of terror and intimidation,  leaders and members of the African- American community staged effective and sophisticated campaigns to put an immediate end to the vicious practice and to the societal conditions that allowed lynchings to occur.  One of the most courageous of these leaders was journalist and activist Ida B. Wells, who in 1892 suffered the loss of three close friends at the hands of a mob in Memphis. Their "crime" was the successful operation of a local grocery store that provided unwelcome competition to white merchants.  Wells embarked on a persuasive writing and speaking campaign and exposed the realities of lynching.  She proved that the vast majority of victims were not even accused of a sexual crime, and frequently were accused of no crime at all, except perhaps "talking back" or "testifying against whites."    Wells’ determination to demythologize lynching and improve conditions for African Americans was at no small personal cost.  After publishing a particularly biting editorial, she was forced to shut down her newspaper, flee from the South and continue her campaign from the North.


There have been countless reformers, activists, artists, writers, educators, church leaders and members, from the North and the South, both African-American and White, who dedicated themselves to the amelioration of the African-American condition. Critical to that process was eliminating lynchings and directly addressing the societal attitudes and environment that promoted and justified such a brutal and racist practice in a land that promised justice and liberty to its citizens.  These anti-lynching crusaders, including the important newspaper The Pittsburgh Courier, faced the problem squarely and challenged American inconsistencies with courage, often facing consequences for their sharp critique and "impudence."  And yet they persisted in their efforts on the grass roots level to make the American promise a reality.


The anti-lynching movement is a powerful legacy that reminds us that we must continue  to ask difficult questions of our society and citizens, and to challenge attitudes and prejudices that nurture racist acts.


Liann E. Tsoukas

Visiting Professor of History

University of Pittsburgh, Carnegie Mellon University



Southern trees bear a strange fruit


Time magazine (December 31, 1999) called a sad, shadowy song about lynching, Strange Fruit, the best song of the 20th century, because in singing it "Billie Holiday, history's greatest jazz singer, comes to terms with history itself."  This attention helped trigger the publication of a short, sophisticated book entitled Strange Fruit: Billie Holiday, Café Society and the Early Cry for Civil Rights (Philadelphia: Running Press, 2000), by Vanity Fair writer David Margolick, with a forward by Hilton Als, a New Yorker writer. 


Here, in a sense out of the closet, is the story of a song which debuted in Greenwich Village in 1939 and became the signature song of the great blues singer. The lyrics describing a lynched black man hanging from a poplar tree were written by Abel Meerpol, a high school English teacher in New York City, who was also a writer, composer, poet, and political activist.  Billie Holiday sang it regularly at the close of her café society performances, to a mesmerized and silent audience. One jazz musician described her performance:  "The words told the story but her face never reflected any emotion. You listened to every word; it was like watching water drop slowly from a faucet. It was as if she was singing 'Ave Maria' or 'Amazing Grace.' "  

 (Dempsey Travis, in Strange Fruit, pp. 116-17.)


Strange Fruit


Southern trees bear a strange fruit,

Blood on the leaves and blood at the root,

Black body 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,

And 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 a tree to drop,

Here is a strange and bitter crop.


--R.J. Gangewere





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