Greetings LQP People!
Well things are slowly but surely settling down a bit since the opening of Her Name was Laura Nelson: The Lynch Quilts Project at Central Library here in Indianapolis, IN. The exhibit officially closed on Saturday, May 23rd and I took Ms. Laura down (a nickname given to her by one of the original quilters) the morning of Sunday, March 24, 2013 at 9:00 am.
There was no ceremony, no fanfare, just a simple libation and thank you. For some reason, I think there should be a ritual to this process. Not for others to see, but simply to continue the process of acknowledgement and hope the work acts as a healing force in the community. I was joined by LaTanya Autry, a researcher from the University of Delaware studying how lynching is memorialized across the country. She flew down here to do research on the project and meet me.
I was not only honored, but it seemed like I met a kindred spirit of lynching. Like me, she too spends many day and nights pouring over this history and trying to make heads or tales of it. We even shared our 'favorite' lynch stories. Or how should I put it? The one story of lynching that is forever on the back of our minds? Besides Laura and LD/Lawrence Nelson, the other story that haunts my periphery is that of Mary Turner and the baby girl gutted from her womb. Check out Ms. Autrey's blog about lynching here at http://artstuffmatters.wordpress.com/lynching-memorials/.
I am exhausted . . . just a tiny bit.
And a part of me wants, needs to scurry and hide in a corner for a while to lick my wounds. To go and wash the human stain of pain that one encounters time and time again when speaking to the community about this history, from my soul. But alas, the work must be done. And I am grateful that I can continue to draw sustenance and encouragement from each of you and the community. (For a refresher on the importance of gardening to this project about lynching, click here to read Root Workin' in the Asphalt Jungle from the September 2012 issue of The Lynch Quilts Project Newsletter.)
AND my garden is in the process of being reborn as we speak. Just in the nick of time it seems. A place to plant seeds and coax life from the earth for a while to counter balance the sorrow and death of lynching.
On the positive front, a small blurb about LQP appeared in the May 2013 issue of ESSENCE magazine on page 81. After my initial shock, I was happy to see the wider community take hold and discuss this issue.
The music community continues to be on fire with discussions about Lil' Wayne's complete disrespect of Emmett Till. Added to this racial discussion is a new song by country singer Brad Paisley and hip hop star LL Cool Jay, Accident Racist, also has the internet a buzz. While I have my opinion, I've provided links to a variety of articles and perspectives in this month's news section, as well as additional articles on lynching, the new rise of the KKK and race related issues.
Again, thank you all for your continued support. This would not be possible without you!
With the utmost gratitude,
Blurb in ESSENCE from May 2013 magazine edition.
For the next few months, I would like to share communications I have received from individuals that have stuck their neck out to support and carry the work of LQP forward. First, up is Marilyn Michele Kunkel, one bad a** artist who had the audacity to present this project in a town that is 99.99% white. This excerpt is taken from an email she sent about 2 am after her first time presenting our joint venture, Performing The Lynch Quilts Project. Simple on paper, but more complicated in reality.
Ms. Kunkel attended the local quilt fair to discuss the coming of the project, then presented Memoria: In Progress at First Friday and a local festival. Prior to this encounter, in the weeks leading up, Ms. Kunkel and I spoke several times a week and she was provided with lots of websites and books to read to prepare her for the work. But now looking back what I realize is there is NO amount preparation possible to prepare someone for the emotional force of this history. When necessary, I have changed some of the names and locations to ensure a layer of privacy. This email is being reprinted with permission.
It is late and I need to write out some pieces of the day. I have taken notes, but before I go to bed forgive the length of this email, but girl this email and more will be sent as this is a vex of a project. Do I need to use a hex instead!!! if only it was that easy to address social justice....
Is there an easy opening line for bringing the Lynching Quilt Project to Vernonia? Not exactly. Well actually not at all. I get "you said what?", "did you say lynching?" "What? Why lynching? Why now?" But the first response given me is a topper, "Well isn't that behind us?" and within 5 minutes she speaks "Well now, my grandson... he ummm.... he does have some bad thoughts. (bad ways)" "And those come from his grandpa." ( I am thinking this is her husband...) So maybe it isn't so far behind us? Maybe real close and uncomfortable.
The county commissioner that I spoke with was taken aback, "This is about what? Did you say lynching?" And then offered, you know the KKKlan was VERY active here. You know I worked in the woods (as a logger) with these folk. I came in 1972, and well it is the old blue collar democrat boys for sure. He spoke of one lynching in St. Helen's, our counties government central sight. And he was very happy to have the subject change.
Many folk ask how many were lynched in Oregon. I am glad I don't have the number. Because does that number absolve us from it some way? I can hear them now, Oh our number ain't so high! What is that about!??? . .
. . . It is quite the observation just to watch the body language of folk when lynching is mentioned. I don't know if my initial response is so many years long, that it has left me past my initial impact, or if I am just so ready to walk my talk of social justice that I am all over this, (mabye it is both for me), but I see folk physically change in the conversation. Those who are use to wrangling and have experienced some form of social injustice are right there in a proactive posture. The rest recoil or slump over into lumps, or slither away with their shoulders folding up somewhat --but clearly they are flopping about like a fish out of water.
Maybe coming from a white woman they don't know what to do with it? And why am I doing anything with it? And I speak and identify WE did the lynching... so it is about US. There is little room to let folk be comfortable AND generate the dialog. It is like I need to offer a barf bag from some, spelling salts for others, fairy dust for those who just must trip out, back brace for the socially popular or politicians, and bucket of ice water for the overheated. And the rest gather and engage with intelligence, acknowledgment, and when they discover this is a project where there is a way to gather to heal, this is fully embraced.
But then some who embrace it go talk with a husband, and then they come back shrinking away, or now opposed.
I had one gal all up in arms about the RedRum reference tied to the Stephen King movie the shining. She wanted to know "why this word? Who was backing this project? Where did it come from? Why is it coming from the church quilt fair?" "Aside from quilts, why is it here? Why is it at the church? Is the quilting just a cover, a way in? This is political! This doesn't belong here. Who are you and who is behind this?" Yo baby she was hot. But when I asked if she was upset, she said "she wasn't upset!"
I relayed it is a human injustice. This is inhuman. "But you don't know why each person was lynched!" "If you don't know that, then you can't call it murder. ....What political group is behind this?" I was not clear what upset her the most. Calling a lynching a murder. Or that some group could be behind this? Or whether she didn't like Stephen Kings movie and the wave of response this generated socially. So after about a half hour of listening, holding still and asking more questions, and giving some informed feedback I find she was most concerned that we might have some covert support from some social / political fraction. "Was I vetted properly to be handing out fliers here?"
I brought up Jesus and his social concerns, and she was just miffed about that... she was sure I was some covert operator.
Now it is interesting, because she no longer lives in Vernonia. She no longer attends this church. And it was only after her husband read the flier that she was all in it with me. NOT HIM, but her.
Just to let you know it was very civil. And I stayed in there with her until she understood I was a long standing member of this community, partnered with (a local organization), AND it was not backed by some covert political movement, but two fellow artists engaging their society on areas we should not overlook. An area we here in Oregon have a history of! . . .
. . . I must say after today, I feel and see through the hoopla of our promoted/celebrated social stuff differently. I just felt it very loudly as the social stuff continues to gloss over the injustices cuz it would just be messy to revisit? I mean I went to a [concert] in town tonight and the music was "American Music through our history". I gotta say it didn't feel so American to me as it might of before. It felt more like "White American Music" with touches of Jazz either as a token but more appropriated from some select black and not the full breadth of our entire US culture which we don't want to fully lift up and join in with.
I understood the audiences celebration, I know the familiarity and delights of the music. But I also saw the exclusions, the gloss over, and happy ignorance. And I found our rich elevated 'arts' the vehicle.
None of this was completely new. But after a day of slogging it out with my community the evening could not be experienced without seeing and feeling more of what was missing and what is glossed over. And I could not attend with out seeing that which is honored is rather disgusting if I am not wasp! Don't get me wrong, I enjoyed myself enough. But it was a new mixed bag for me. The lows I felt were more personal and and the high was just less.
Well I am off to bed now. I just needed to write some pieces out. I feel you had prepared me well, and I thank you for that. I haven't had a blind side. I didn't know about Steven Kings's, the Shining is all. And that is just me not doing Stephen King. I am heading up to [the quilt fair] again tomorrow. I have always had odd looks because I am bald, or 6', but to feel the looks because I stand to speak about lynching is yet a new place for me. So I go to walk my talk and to cultivate the ground for healing. But first a nights rest. And then tomorrow a night with the gals dancing! Some folk dance they are all into! Whatever I will be ready for it I am sure.
-- Mm Kunkel