Date of Degree
Tuzyline Jita Allen
Jane Connor Marcus
English Language and Literature
The terrorization of African Americans through lynching was a national cultural trauma producing a struggle over the meaning of suffering, victimization and moral responsibility. The lesson you were meant to learn from white supremacy and terror powerfully affected how you remembered lynching. My dissertation asks who remembered (and did not remember) what about lynching and how these habits of memory influenced literary and visual representations. I consider the impact of race, gender, class, and sexuality on how lynching was textualized and performed, avoided and blocked. While much recent scholarship has concentrated on the visual technologies of lynching, lynching was also marked by concealment and silence, by strategic forgetting and disappearing of the bodies of the dead.
Memories of lynching were dangerous. Violent memories threatened white subjectivity, producing a structure of denial and disavowal that endangered African American lives. My dissertation considers the work of writers and filmmakers deeply touched by lynching or mob terror. Each representation (what we are used to thinking of as "fictional") was based upon or inspired by actual encounters with lynching—through personal witnessing or through membership in a targeted group deeply affected by a notorious event. They used their narratives to control and make sense of such memories, which often could be traced to things seen and heard in childhood. They seek control through a range of mechanisms, from the narratives of evasion, omission and racial myopia of Allen Tate and Robert Penn Warren to the militant protest and mourning of Angelina Weld Grimke. Writers like William Faulkner return compulsively to lynching seeking to rehabilitate it. Other writers such as Erskine Caldwell and Lillian Smith demand public recognition of these memories in search of atonement and change. Fritz Lang's cinematic representation of a lynching in Fury shines a searchlight on a town's collective decision to forget, convinced that there will be no repercussions. Each of these representations offers insight into how we continue to live race here in the United States and in our relations with the world.
Rice, Anne P., "Dangerous Memories: Lynching and the U.S. Literary Imagination" (2005). CUNY Academic Works.