A Black American killed by hanging in a lynching, 1925
TIES THAT BIND
the fall from grace
In the Fall of 2000 I was working at one of the world's leading modeling agencies in NYC. Supermodels floated in and out and I was charged with the task of making fashion's next generation of stars. Till that point, my biggest Fall concern was which one of my girls would walk the Spring collections for Marc Jacobs and what kind of catering was going to be served backstage at the Lexington Avenue Armory.
The Fall of 2000 was also the run-up to the Al Gore vs. George W. Bush contest for President. George W. Bush "defeated" Al Gore by a whisker by being able to disenfranchise swaths of the voter rolls, largely Black and Brown people, in Florida. That defeat left me disillusioned.
That Fall of 2000 I also happened into The Strand bookstore and stumbled upon a book entitled 'Without Sanctuary: Lynching Photography in America.' Until to Fall of 2000 I was always under the impression that lynchings where something that were held in the woods, under the cover of night, by nefarious vigilantes. It had never occurred to me, or should I say, it was never expressed to me, that through the terror and carnage, someone, many times a professional photographer, would carry a camera and take pictures of the events. These lynching photographs were often made into postcards and sold as souvenirs to the crowds in attendance. These images and the horror that they represented left me disenchanted.
The Fall of 2000 is when all the pieces of the puzzle started to fall into place for me.
It was the moment of reckoning when I realized that as a Black man in America, no matter how fancy my surroundings, my position, would always be, one that was tenuous and contingent on the grace of others. Be it either slavery, lynching, Jim Crow, segregation, voter disenfranchisement, or police brutality, there would always be a portion of the American population that would cheer my demise willfully and willingly.
I made of vow to myself, that if in six months time, I was still upset over the election of George W. Bush, I would get one of the images from 'Without Sanctuary...' tattooed to my arm. I would get it as a constant reminder to remain vigilant. Six months passed and with my anger not abated, I followed through.
People are often shocked and ask me why I would commemorate something so awful.
I reply, I have it:*
For Tamir Rice
For Cameron Tillman
For VonDerrit Myers Jr.
For Laquan McDonald
For Carey Smith-Viramontes
For Jeffrey Holden
For Qusean Whitten
For Miguel Benton
For Dillon McGee
For Levi Weaver
For Karen Cifuentes
For Sergio Ramos
For Roshad McIntosh
For Diana Showman
For I am them, and they are me, and this is a sign that we are one.
*the 14 teens killed by cops since the murder of Michael Brown