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Black history: more than a month

by Margaret Stewart
Tue, Mar 5th 2019 10:00 pm

In order to bring awareness to black history as February drew to a close, The College at Brockport hosted a viewing of the film “Shadows of a Lynching Tree”.

The film, created by Brockport professor Carvin Eison, is based on the short story “Going to Meet the Man” by James Baldwin. The story is about a white sheriff, Jesse, who beat a black man outside a courthouse. Jesse begins to remember his younger self going to watch the lynching and beating of an African American man with his father at a “picnic.”

Eison’s movie juxtaposes the story with an actual account of an African American adolescent, Jesse Washington, who was lynched and burned for allegedly raping and murdering his white, female slave owner.

Shown at 5:30 p.m. on Wednesday, Feb. 27 in Edwards in room 101, the film was shown as a part of the Human Rights Events Series happening throughout The College at Brockport campus. In front of an audience mainly comprised of his students, Eison ensured they understood some parts of the film would be hard to watch.

“It’s time to eat your vegetables,” Eison said. “Not your dessert.”

Eison’s student, Jared Rosenberg reflected on how some parts of the film brought a harsh light to the history of lynchings and why they began to occur in the early 20th century. “The photo and primary documentation that we saw in the film were incredibly raw and very jarring,” Rosenberg said.

Eison calls to attention that the most alarming aspect of the photos is not just the blatant and obvious racism and victim, it is about the hundreds of bystanders, of various races, watching the events unfolding. Regardless of their personal beliefs, no one stepped in to stop these human rights violations.

Another student, Imani Coaxum explained that people need to stick up, not just for each other, but for themselves as well.

“We really need to stand up for what we believe in,” Coaxum said. 

This is timely for the nation and timely for Rochester specifically. Similar to the two perspectives, Eison experienced two vastly different audiences when he showed the film at Brockport compared to the viewing of the film at St. John Fisher College on Tuesday, Feb. 26.

According to Eison, the viewing at Fisher was very intense. The emotional event could have been influenced by the recent controversial demonstrations seen through students enrolled in the college. Fisher has made the headlines for continued displays of racism as demonstrated by it’s students. 

Students from Fisher tore down a statue of Frederick Douglass in December of 2018. Barely a month later, athletes from Fisher made headlines for another racist incident. In early January of 2019, the St. John Fisher cheerleading squad was suspended for shouting the N-word during their routine. Then the usage of blackface was found in  past yearbooks from Fisher in late February, not even a month later.

Officially, there were about 5,000 lynchings held across the United States. However, as is the case with most cases where moral, ethic and humane lines have been crossed and blurred, there are thought to be many more cases which have gone unreported.

“I was honestly surprised with the amount of racial tension that we, as a society, have kind of just swept under the rug,” Rosenberg said.

Many people see this conscience omission of United States history as disrespectful to the countless victims lost in the fight for social equality.

“I wanted to give them [the victims of lynching] back some humanity,” Eison said. “This is not who they are, this is what somebody did to them.”

Eison opened the floor up to questions as the viewing drew to a close. One of the points driven home was once slaves were granted freedom, their previous owners had no reason to protect them: they had lost their monetary “value.” Eison lead the discussion by explaining African Americans were, in a sense, safer enslaved during that time.

“Eison provokes a lot of thought about the state and appearance of racism in America today,” Rosenberg said.

Eison started the project in 2005 and finished it in 2010. In 2010 he started piecing together a 10 minute version of the larger work of which he finished in 2016. 

The Human Rights Events Series will continue to feature films and art installations for the duration of the semester. To find more information on the different exhibits and events, visit www.brockport.edu/academics/anthropology/human_rights_series.html.

Photo of the Week

Taken by Vincent Croce:
Staff Photographer

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