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The Lynch Quilts Project

December 2014 / January 2015

This issue dedicated to Michael Brown, Eric Garner, Tamir Rice and all the black men, women, boys and girls whose lives were deemed expendable, but we know are truly priceless.

Greetings All!

I just wanted to say thank you all for your continued support through a topsey turvy year. I know the newsletter has not been as consistent as possible these last few months as I've been in the middle of major life transitions. But know that The Lynch Quilt Project continues to grow in many new and exciting directions in part because of the great work and advocacy so many in the community connected to the project are doing to spread the word. We have some exciting opportunities coming up in 2015, which I will share as soon as things are finalized. 

But never fear, I post A LOT of resources and articles on a near daily basis to The Lynch Quilts Project Facebook page. You can access the page
here . A few articles I've posted that you should review include the following:

As such, given the activity on the Facebook and Twitter pages, the newsletter will be delivered on a bi-monthly basis. Moving forward I would hope that we'll get more and more submissions from all of you that are working to bring light to your corner of the world. Working hard to translate into action, all of these ideas of racial healing, racial justice, lynching, history and all the various topics around the impact of racism that have been discussed this past decade of LQP. Below, please find an article submitted by an LQP supporter on her experience dealing with discussions around race and violence with high school students.

So again, thank you for your continued support and the many messages and emails I have received of encouragement to continue with the work. None of this is possible without you.

With the Utmost Gratitude,




I apologize if you are receiving this newsletter in error. A recent technical glitch required me to rebuild the database, which meant combining multiple email accounts, listserves and handwritten sign-in sheets. I have multiple emails without names attached.  As such, I am sure I missed a few as I tried to delete as many as possible, before it became kinda exhausting given there are hundreds upon hundreds of supporters. So if you are here and not by choice, I apologize. Please simply unsubscribe. 

Quilt I, Her Name was Laura Nelson,
will be on exhibit at Bowling Green University February 5-28, 2015. The University is about an hour south of Detroit, or 2 hours west of Cleveland. I am also working with students and staff at the University to develop as symposium around the quilt and this history as well. If you are in the area, an artist talk will occur on Friday, February 6th from 6-7 pm. Additional details will be forthcoming. Thanks to Viola for taking the initiative on this projects.

Quilt II, RedRum Summer 1919, finished a 4 month stint at the Indianapolis International Airport in early November 2014. We received many positive comments. On the night we took down the exhibit, there was a small snow storm and it was late. Many pilots and others that worked in the airport came up to talk about how much they appreciated the work.

Quilt III, A Partial Listing, has been reactivated. The final pieces of how this quilt should be completed have unfortunately come into play with the recent police shootings. More on that below.

Quilt IV, (Title TBA), is very, very close to completion. All the pieces are in and early 2015 will finished being assembled. A recent move in my studio has disrupted the work, but as soon as things get settled, I'll jump back on the machine. I can't seem to settle on the title of this piece. So, I guess we'll figure it out when it is completed.

Quilt V, The Making Quilt, is in the hands of Chicago master quilters. New discoveries on slavery era quilts and lynching history have added a new dimension to this quilt.

Quilt VI, Memoria: In Progress, is always looking for a place to go up for a few days, weeks or months. Let me know if you have a place in your community where we can place the boards for a period of time, no matter how short or long.

Brown, Garner,  Rice and The New James Crow

In recent weeks, months even, I've been embroiled in discussions about Ferguson, Michael Brown, Eric Garner and now Tamir Rice. What does all this mean and where are we going? I don't live in a city were protest marchers are happening. In fact most seem to be taking place in larger metropolises vs. smaller and mid-sized cities. Not sure why this is, but I feel for those of us in these other areas of the country, we must apply our gifts, skills and talents to raise the voice of injustice and awareness in the ways that we can.

If you have ever wondered what you would do if you were a part of the Civil Rights Movement, now is your chance to take an active stance in our society and really begin to do the work to transform the world around you.  How that looks depends on you.  But use what you got and begin to shine light on the world around you. Engage in the difficult conversations that are necessary to move the movement forward. What counts is that each of us wakes up every day with justice on our mind and fighting for our collective humanity.

I've been in protest marches before. And while a part of me longs to feel the energy of crowds in New York, Ferguson, Chicago, DC and so many other cities, I also know that the work must take many forms. So don't cry if you can't be there, look around you and see how you can change your corner of the world.

But I digress.

Today I walked outside my door and my neighbor had posted a hand written sign in his/her yard "Black Lives Matter." This is a home of young white hipsters and I was happy to see the emphasis on BLACK LIVES.

Recently, there have been discussions about All Lives Matter or ALM. And I'll be honest to say, that I am not a fan of this slogan, nor do I support its usage. Yes we know all lives matter, but the reality is that for the past 400 plus years our society has been inundated with the message that black lives are cheap, subhuman and DO NOT MATTER. To use this ALM slogan does not support this newly forming civil rights movement, but in many ways negates the important issue we are trying to get to. In typical American fashion it ignores the horrendous, deformed elephant in the room to instead embrace some sugary coated, glitterized version that is more digestible.

Sorry America; you're gonna have to eat the ugly elephant this time.
ALL of this has started because black life DOES NOT seem to matter to this society. It has taken more than 400 years of consistent denigration of black people for this mentality to become so set in our national mindset that we no longer even see it. When you begin the ALM chant you sugar coat and down play that history and current reality that as Black Americans, going simply outside your door is a hazard to your health in many ways.

So to all other groups understand that when we talk about Black Lives Matter, this has nothing to do with downgrading your humanity. It is about reclaiming our own.
So stand with us solidarity. Be loud and clear that you will not allow society to continue to treat blacks as three-fifths a man. Stand will us to fight for our natural right as human beings to be treated with the same level respect and dignity you get to enjoy simply by the nature of your skin. And when we say Black Lives Matter, say "D*mn Right, They Matter."

The New Lynch Law
In my opinion we are now bearing witness to the New Jim Crow, now turning to James Crow. In the past, white mobs attacked African Americans that had been accused of crimes. This was considered a lynch mob and mob justice took the place of the due process of law.

Now we are witnessing what is my opinion is becoming state sanctioned execution of unarmed black men and boys. As a sister, aunt, friend, family member and most importantly mother  to several black men and boys, this is TERRIFYING.   

Historically, no law was ever passed to outlaw lynching. Lynchers were rarely, if ever, brought to justice. In fact, for the case of Mary Turner, seeking justice for her lynched husband resulted in her own death at the hand of lynchers, as well as that of her unborn child.

Lynching it self rose as a backlash against black freedom from slavery. Before that time, blacks had no power no rights. They were not viewed as a threat. There wasn't any economic competition.  When freedom was reclaimed, so was the possibility for blacks having control over their own lives, a say and a stake in society. The right to earn what they keep and compete like all others for their place in the world. Freedom was a threat. The threat to that white society felt it was losing power and control. Lynching became the tool of that system to maintain power.

Moving forward 100+ years. We are witnessing the rise of a browner nation, the first black president, economic difficulties. So is it any shock that this now increasing . . . yet again. Or as many have pointed out, this crap, the constant disrespect and heightened aggressiveness by the police force in our communities of color, is nothing new, but damn does it feel more scary, more deadly.

And no this is not an attack on the men and women in blue; a few of which are my friends. It is an attack on the system of institutional racism that continues to be the fertile ground that lays the foundation for which black life is trapped and then snuffed. Rather by the prison industrial complex, extreme economic inequality or at the end of bullet, we collectively have a target on our backs and must fight remove it.

Today, it seems our laws have been created to allow the state, under the guise of enforcing or following the law and maintaining justice, to become the lynchers. Few if any of these perpetrators are charged or even reprimanded. Rather the law is called Stand Your Ground, or a cop shooting an unarmed teenager the mentality is still the same. This notion and consistently accepted defense that they felt fear for their lives can be directly traced to the mentality that black men and boys are danger boys are dangerous and must be put down.

This notion is directly traced to the brute caricature that was born in the minds of mainstream society after Reconstruction and rise of the lynching era and Jim Crow Laws. At a time in our history when black men had little power, they were turned into the monster in the minds of white society as being dangerous predators, when the reverse was true about race-based violence.

To get a real understanding of this history of the black brute caricature, check out the Jim Crow Museum of Racist Memorabilia at Ferris State University or click
here to go directly to the article.

So the charge today is for each and everyone on us:

  1. To reflect on how we maintain systems of supremacy - internally and externally. And fight against them everyday
  2. .Use our gifts, skills and talents to support the movement in our places and space. (Click  here to see 26 Ways to Be in the Struggle Beyond the Streets)
  3. And when we say Black Lives Matter, raise your fist and say, "D*mn Right, They Matter."



FIELD NOTES: Kin Killin Kin

When I attended docent training to lead student tours for James Pate’s art exhibit, Kin Killin’ Kin, I reminded those who don’t live in an urban setting that for a large number of people viewing the exhibit, this would be more than “art hanging in a gallery”.  I knew that the victims’ names printed on toe tags as part of the exhibit would be names of people that some of them actually knew, and possibly were related to.  I also reminded them that this wasn’t just a “black” thing, that there are killings in all parts of the city committed by and upon people of every age, gender, ethnicity, income and education level, at all times of the day and night and for a variety of reasons, in a variety of situations.
Once my first tour was scheduled, I reread all of the training material and was ready.  Then early that Monday morning I was awakened by the sound of news helicopters and sirens.  Four blocks from my house there had been a shooting and a man was killed in a robbery attempt.  The first group of students for the tour, a class of 6th graders, had the unfortunate experience of riding right past the crime scene.  Three hours after his death, the victim’s body still laid there- uncovered.  Needless to say, these students and their teachers arrived at the library in a very somber mood.  They looked at the series of charcoal drawings from a more emotional point of view.  
Our debriefing discussion included the students and their teachers sharing their personal experiences that involved crime and death.  Their discussions were serious and deeply meaningful.  It was so sad to hear that in their short lives, almost all of them had all been touched by violence and death in some way.  From the teacher whose 14 year old student at her previous school had been killed, to the student who shared that her cousin had been the first Indianapolis homicide  of 2014, their stories were very heartbreaking.  Getting them to open up and share was easy, it was as if seeing a fresh crime scene along with the very graphic art show, was the opportunity that they needed to be able to get some things off of their hearts and minds.  I left there wanting to cry with and hug each one of them. 
The following week I lead a tour with a group of 8th graders and their experience was very different. They laughed and joked while viewing the art and a part of me wanted to tell them to stop playing and to look deeper at the art so they could learn something.
Another volunteer led their debriefing and she was able to get the students to open up about their gang experiences.  Hearing these 13 year olds admit that they have been and are still in gangs was shocking.  One male student said he was recruited by his father but when they were shot at, he (the 13 year old) decided he didn’t want to spend time with his father anymore. Imagine a child having to choose between having his father in his life and being part of a gang.
And that’s how the tours and discussions have been.  Each one as different as the students and their personal experiences. Our children live in a much different world today.  One in which many of them don’t expect to live to become an adult.  A world in which our children don’t know what it’s like to live without violence.  A world in which attending funerals is a common occurrence.  A world in which  memoriam t-shirts  are a big part of our young people’s wardrobes.   
So what can we do to make a difference?  The chairperson of the committee responsible for bringing this exhibit to Indianapolis says she sees it as an opportunity for us to make connections.  Whether it’s connecting to an organization that is working with people to have a positive impact on their lives, listening when a young person feels they have no one to listen to them or bringing people to a library and exposing them to people and things that they hadn’t been previously aware of, there is something that each of us can do.
As a certified knit and crochet instructor and fiber artist, I have chosen to volunteer my time and work with an area high school’s crochet club.  A school that is in my neighborhood, which has had four violent deaths in the past 3 weeks.  This is a connection that I made after leading a tour for these students.  I hope that by sharing my skills and talents, that they will have an outlet that allows them to express their creativity.  Maybe they will learn that they too have an artistic side.  Maybe they will learn that there is an alternative way of life.   Maybe they will share what I teach them with others. Maybe they will make other positive connections.   Maybe together we can be part of a new and different cycle.  A cycle of unity, peace and acceptance. And to think it all started with an art exhibit.
We all need to find a way to Stand4Peace.
Denise Smith
September 20, 2014


The Other KKK by James Pate

The Lynch Quilts Project 
February 5-28, 2015

Bowling Green State University
Bowling Green, OH


Indy Reacts to the Quilt
Indianapolis Recorder
Clutch Mag On-Line
Madame Noire

Maybe Someone Should Write that Down
Beautiful Horror of History



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