Murder Stories

Murder Stories: Lynchings of black women recounted
By Dianne Zuckerman, © Denver Post, 03/19/1999

A stained hat slung over an oil can. Empty bottles half-buried near a bench holding a small flag. The symbols are subtle. The story, amplified by tree bark bearing a noose, is not.

In 1918, a pregnant Georgia woman named Mary Turner was hanged, then drenched with oil and gasoline. Her body was ripped open, her unborn baby crushed. Both were burned.

After hearing a reference to the murder, New York artist Kim Mayhorn was inspired to create “A Woman Was Lynched the Other Day…”. The installation, first shown in SoHo, is at ZWick Place. It focuses on some half a dozen black women lynched in 19th and 20th century America.

“As a black female I am interested in finding the stories about black women that aren’t talked about that often,” says Mayhorn, who graduated from Howard University. “My goal was to allow the viewer to experience what happened, like you’re walking up on it.”

Visitors are encouraged to crunch through dried leaves and touch garments suspended from branches. They can take in images such as clay models of feet symbolizing spirits returning to their homeland, then reflect on the women – and children – they represent.

One small noose recalls Mildrey Brown. The 13 year-old was hanged after being accused of poisoning a white infant, recalled by a tiny carriage and embroidered cover.

Another case based on circumstantial evidence was that of a Tennessee woman lynched after being charged with killing her owner’s wife. Later, it was discovered the slave-owner killed his own spouse.

In one corner of the room, near a time line with statistics about known male and female lynchings, is a quote from journalist Ida B. Wells, one of the first to document the names of women who were lynched.

Mayhorn learned about the women’s stories at the Schomberg Center for Research in Black Culture in New York. “It’s just amazing, when I read up on American history, how much is left out,” Mayhorn says.