January 12, 2022

The Horrors of Lynching Photographs and Postcards

Word In Black
Photo By:Elvert Barnes/Flickr

The postcards and photographs were often distributed as souvenirs and saved as mementos in family albums and stored away in attics for safekeeping.

By Nhaya Vaidya & Sara Wiatrak
The Howard Center For Investigative Journalism

This is only the branch of a Dogwood tree; An emblem of WHITE SUPREMACY. 
A lesson once taught in the Pioneer’s school, That this is a land of WHITE MAN’S RULE. 
The Red Man once in an early day, Was told by the Whites to mend his way. 
The negro, now, by eternal grace, Must learn to stay in the negro’s place. 
In the Sunny South, the Land of the Free, Let the WHITE SUPREME forever be. 
Let this a warning to all negroes be, Or they’ll suffer the fate of the DOGWOOD TREE.The Dogwood Tree, Anonymous (1908) 
Published by Harkrider Drug Co., Center, Texas. 
Unknown Copyright

Note to readers: This story contains graphic and disturbing images.

During the late 19th and early 20th century, thousands of photographs and postcards of Black Americans killed by white mobs in racist terror lynchings were collected, traded and sent through the U.S. postal service. 

The postcards and photographs, depicting gruesome images of the bodies of Black men, women and children who had been tied to trees, mutilated, tortured, shot and burned alive by white mobs, were often distributed as souvenirs and saved as mementos in family albums and stored away in attics for safekeeping. 

The lynching photographs often captured the bodies of the murdered Black Americans and the hundreds of white people — including children — who gathered to witness the public spectacle of lynchings. According to historians, in more than half of these photos and postcards, white people were shown smiling and celebrating the spectacles.

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