Mob Victim : One Of The Untold Stories
Lynching is an act of violence that took place in great numbers from the era of slavery to the times of the civil rights movements. The Webster s definition of lynch is to execute, extrasensory perception by hanging, without due process of law. Many innocent lives were taken because of the hatred that was accepted during the time that lynching was occurring at large. Between 1882 and 1900 more than a thousand people in the South were killed by whites who took the law into their own hands. Lynchings peaked 1892, and in all years the overwhelming majority of victims were black men, (Hodes 176). These victims had not always done something wrong or committed a heinous crime, the charge could have been wholly fabricated, and they were accused of many things. Acting suspiciously, gambling, quarreling, adultery, grave robbing, race hatred; race troubles, aiding a murderer, rape, arguing with a white man, resisting a mob, inflammatory language, informing, slander, being obnoxious, courting a white woman, throwing stones, demanding respect, mistaken identity, unpopularity, voodoism, trying to vote, and voting for the wrong party are just a few of the unjust reasons where whites felt it was their place to take the law into their own hands. Many mob victims were young black men who may have shown insufficient caution in avoiding situations that older blacks might have perceived as dangerous, (Brundage 81). The young men may have been able to avoid some of the situations that brought their lives to a premature end, but that does not mean that lynching should have been accepted. Lynching was a community event, notices might be printed in local papers, rail road companies might add extra cars or run special trains, and children might be given the day off from school to attend, (Hodes 176). Whites made lynchings a common activity for the average white family. The mobs, which were the murderers, made sure that the public heard the most vicious story about the victim in order to insure that there was no person that believed the act was unjust.
These lynchings were held in public settings, in the public s eye, but there are missing records for lynched victims because the cause of death was recorded as unknown. Even as the newspapers published detailed accounts from the mouths of eyewitnesses, the coroner or his jury would name the cause of death as at the hands of persons unknown, (177). These victims soon became statistics, just numbers and dead bodies, which is why there are only documents about certain lynch incidents. The lynching of John Henry Williams is one of the murders that are not intensely researched, but Lois Mailou Jones took the time to represent his lynching in the remarkable piece entitled Mob Victim.
In 1945 Lois Mailou Jones painted Mob Victim. It is a representation of the lynching of John Henry Williams, which occurred June 24, 1921. John Henry Williams is one of thousands of lynch victims. Williams was lynched for unknown reason and unjust severity. To be lynched may have included many severe things beyond being hung. The method of murder might include mutilation, castration, skinning, roasting, burning, hanging, and shooting, (177). Williams sang Nearer My God To Thee, a spiritual, while he was being tortured and about to be burned alive. Jones happened to come across a man on U Street in Washington, D.C. in shabby clothes with a certain look on his face. She was searching for a model for the Mob Victim and this man embodied the look that she wanted as well as the story of his brother John Henry Williams. This man witnessed the lynching of his brother by their boss man and posed as his brother for Jones painting. In order to capture the emotion of the model Jones uses many short strokes of watercolors. There is a great use of red, blue, yellow and green in the painting that mixes well to give the subject s skin a bronzed brown color which many African-Americans can relate with, instead of the subject being extremely black as many early paintings of black people are. This painting depicts Williams before the lynching occurs, so, if one did not know that a lynch victim is the purpose of the painting, one may believe that it is a head shot of a regular black man that is old and worried. The expression on Williams face is one that no one would forget.
This impressive masterpiece, Mob Victim, would have never been completed if Lois Mailou Jones did not follow her passion for art. Lois Mailou Jones was born in Boston, Massachusetts, 1905. She studied at a plethora of schools, which included the Boston Normal Art School, the School of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, Columbia University Teachers College and the Academie Julien in Paris. These are only a few of her educational triumphs. Jones attended the High School of Practical Arts in Boston where she was the art editor of the magazine. During her high school years Jones received a scholarship to the Boston Museum of Fine Arts vocational drawing class. From this point she was awarded a scholarship to go to the Boston Museum school of Fine Arts, where she majored in design. She later received a graduate scholarship for the Designers Art School of Boston to do textile designing for cretonnes. She also studied at the Massachusetts College of Art. From her design education she was able to become a drape designer for a large New York companies such as F.A. Foster Company and Schumacher s of New York, which baffled white store owners when she would stop in their store to point out her own design. The white people were unable to grasp the idea that a black woman could make such wonderful designs. This was reason enough for Jones to notice that she was not getting the recognition that she deserved, but the only possible way for her to receive her recognition was for her to paint.
In 1929 she attended a lecture given by Charlotte Hawkins Brown, the founder of Palmer Memorial Institute, a junior college in Sedalia, North Carolina. She convinced Brown to allow her to start an art department at Palmer Memorial Institute. At Palmer, Jones did not only follow her dreams of spreading art by teaching art, she had many other jobs as well. Jones was the art teacher, the basketball coach, the folk dance teacher, and on Sunday she was the pianist for Sunday school. One year later James Vernon Herring, chairman and founder of the Department of Art at Howard University in Washington, D.C., recruited Jones to teach. Teaching at Howard University allowed her more time as a painter. The only obstacle in her way was her race. Her work was being rejected because of her race so she began entering her pieces incognito. She either shipped her paintings or had a white friend to drop them off. Even then, when her paintings won awards, the award was retracted when Jones showed up to accept it because of her race. As a result, she kept her background a secret and accumulated competitive awards from the National Academy of Design, the Philadelphia Academy and the Corcoran Gallery. Meta Warrick Fuller, a friend in Martha s Vineyard, where Jones spent her vacations enjoying nature, informed her that her work would be greatly appreciated abroad, where color would not hold her back. She was only 17 when she received this advice, but she remembered it when it came time for her first sabbatical at Howard University in 1937. She decided to travel to France. She received a General Education Board fellowship from Howard University to study at the Academie Julien in Paris. The scholarship took care of all her expenses, from tuition to studio rental. There, her work was received for showings at the Salon des Artistes Francais as well as exhibits at the Galerie de Paris. In Paris she mainly painted traditional French subjects, but one day she decided that she needed to be painting subjects that would be most important to her career. Jones would take her sketchbook to the museums and galleries to study the African masks and sculptures. Her painting Les Fetiches is considered by Jones to be a study of African Masks and quite abstract a portrayal, (Oda 1). Now this piece is in the permanent collection of the National Museum of American Art. When she returned to Howard University she met Dr. Alain Locke and he expressed to her that she needed to do more paintings about her heritage. This suggestion brought about her idea for Mob Victim. Mob Victim introduced her Alain Locke period. She remained at Howard University for 47 years.
Throughout the decades she began traveling her first stop was Haiti, where she met and married Haitian artist Vergniaud Pierre-Noel in 1953. He died in 1982. By 1954 she was acknowledged and honored by the Washington Society of Artists as well as the Washington Watercolor Association.
She began taking trips to Africa in 1969 and in 1970 she re-introduced her design sensibilities that she used when she was a student. She noticed that Haiti never lost their ties with mother Africa and she felt the same, which is reflected, in her international pan-African culture inspired works. The Diaspora is one piece of these inspired works, which she was honored for at New York City College. The Women s Caucus honored her for outstanding achievement as a woman artist for Art in 1986.
It took time for Lois Mailou Jones work to be recognized, but the wait was worth it. Her work may be found in the Metropolitan Museum, Hirshborn Museum, the National Portrait Gallery, the Brooklyn Museum, Boston Museum of Fine Arts, the National Museum of American Art, and The Great Blacks in Wax Museum. Her former students have excelled in art because of her teachings and inspiration. These former students include print maker and sculptor Elizabeth Catlett, painters Malkia Roberts, Martha Jackson-Jarvis, Hiamatha Brown, Peter Robinson and Robert Freemen; painters/educators David Driskell and Mary Lovelace O Neil; and installation artists Houston Conwill and Rose Powhatan. Unfortunately Lois Mailou Jones died June 9, 1998 at the age of 92, but through her remarkable works and distinguished students, her creative spirit will carry on.
Mob Victim by Lois Mailou Jones brings history and art together. This is something people will admire for years to come. Although times of lynching were not happy ones the African-American culture must continue to move forward towards a better day. It is best not to be so bitter and dwell on the past. The Memorial To The Martyrs Of Lynching, at The Great Blacks in Wax Museum, which is displayed in marble stone under Mob Victim, expresses this idea very eloquently. The memorial reads, As you leave this memorial, do not leave in despair. Think not of our suffering but of what we could have been liberators, builders, sages, or prophets, leading our people to the dawning of a new day. Most importantly, think of the unfinished work that you-the living-still must do, (The Great Blacks in Wax Museum). The power that those whom are living have is much greater than the hatred the living can store in their hearts from the past.
Oda, Ken. Lois Mailou Jones On the Joys and Frustrations of Recognition Deferred accessed 11/29/00.
Lois Mailou Jones and Her Former Students: An American Legacy accessed 11/29/00.
Webster s II New Riverside Dictionary. Boston and New York: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1996.