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Mourning as Resistance: Lynching, Memory and Grief

Unit(s) of assessment: History

Research theme: Global Heritage

School: School of Arts and Humanities


This project investigates the opportunities and spaces for remembering and mourning African-American victims of lynching. In the segregated South racial violence was prevalent but there were significant constraints on the expression of mourning. The project uses documents, including letters and articles, to discover how African Americans remembered and grieved, and asks whether they were able to create public memorials to those killed by lynching.

In the twenty-first century there are more opportunities to create commemorative spaces and a number of museums and memorials exist, together with written and visual culture that remember those who were lynched. This research asks whether such spaces also operate as places for communal mourning.

Mourning individuals, families and communities devastated by lynching challenges the oppressive power of violence. This project seeks to uncover these acts of resistance.

Addressing the Challenge

Research trips for this new project will take place in 2019, including visits to a series of museums and commemorative sites in the U.S. South. Archival research will be conducted into the letters, newspaper articles, pamphlets, and reports which chronicled lynching.

A one-day symposium on Mourning and Memory, hosted at Nottingham Trent University, will bring together delegates interested in issues of public memory and mourning. Delegates from a range of disciplines will be invited to discuss broad approaches to mourning in spaces of commemoration and public memory, including museums and archives.

Making a Difference

The project sits within the context of urgent debates in the United States about race and racial violence. In light of the Black Lives Matter Movement there is an increasingly critical conversation about the vulnerability of black lives and the everyday reality of mourning victims of racial violence. This research considers lynching, a historical antecedent to this racialized murder, and the spaces created for remembering and mourning its victims.

African Americans were not passive victims of white supremacy but actively remembered and grieved in ways that had important political and cultural significance. This research project acknowledges African Americans’ fight against the silence in the historical record. Furthermore, it asks how we can create spaces (physical and otherwise) for remembrance and grief, and considers the political implications of this construction.

Related staff

Dr Jenny Woodley is a Lecturer in Modern History, with a particular focus on African American History.