Six students in the course Religion 353, Violence, Religion & Ethics, hung effigies in the trees on the spine and in Kingsmen Park at California Lutheran University on April 28-29 to raise awareness about the 4,000 documented cases of lynching African Americans from 1860-1960.
Freshman Alison Cervelli, group member of the Confronting Lynching in America campus project said the group of six did not seek to offend but wanted to memorialize the lives that were lost to terror lynching.
“We want to bring awareness to show that this is an outrage, this is unfair and this is not okay. It’s a dirty part of our history, but it needs to be shown,” Cervelli said.
Cervelli said the students wanted to teach and inform fellow students, faculty and staff at Cal Lutheran that this painful past of the racial violence must be addressed in order to free the country of racial injustice.
The six group members worked 20 hours each to reproduce two scenes of lynching in America from the 1860-1960 that were historically based and documented in photography.
“If you look at pictures there is people hanging in the back and in the front people are laughing and smiling at what is happening,” Cervelli said.
Present at both locations were posters and brochures that were meant to educate and explain the shocking installations that represented the religious rituals of targeted racial violence that took place from later half of the 19th century to the mid 20th century.
Dr. Victor Thasiah, professor of the Violence, Religion & Ethics course said the class assignment guidelines were to raise awareness, clarify issues, promote conversation and help people respond to violence associated with religion or peace efforts associated with religion.
“I think that I have stressed in class and with the students that this is really driven by educational objectives,” Thasiah said. “I’m hopeful we’ll grow in our awareness of these historical experiences.”
Sophomore Louise Millet passed by the installation on her way to class. She said she was startled when she saw the effigies hanging by a rope attached to the palm trees.
“I was definitely questioning why this was here. It did kind of scare me in a way. Although I could quickly see that it wasn’t real people, it got me thinking,” Millet said. “I’m aware of the history aspect of it but did not know that exact number. Seeing and thinking about lynching is definitely shocking. It’s disgusting that so many lives were lost.”
Cervelli said people must not be ignorant to this racial violence. Cervelli wants people to spread the word about this dark past by embracing monuments and memorials dedicated to the thousands of lives lost in these horrible acts in American history to stop social injustice for the future.
“The Equal Justice Initiative, which is a nonprofit that works on criminal justice issues, has argued that we are not going to be [able too] effectively deal with racial injustice today until we deal with our history of racial terrorism, injustice and oppression in this country,” Thasiah said.
Thasiah said he hopes being exposed to this installation sets current racial injustice into a larger, broader historical context.
“The hope, I think, is that it will disturb and inform and raise questions that we can pursue in an academic context, academically,” Thasiah said.
Published May 6th, 2015