Five years ago, I wandered downtown Montgomery in the sweltering heat, picked up a walking tour trail, and found myself facing a large, ornate fountain, situated on a brick pavilion. A Historical Marker said that I was standing on the former Court Square Slave Market, where slave traders sold men, women, and children to the highest bidder. It presented cold facts, detailing dollar values for slaves at the time and how none were given last names.
I was speechless. The fountain was erected at a time when this site was not considered for its history, the sign placed in a gesture of reconsideration. Moreover, the language printed on the sign was so void of sentiment in no way testifying to the experience and meaning. I am from the American South, aware of the devastating history of slavery, but this site moved something in me that caught fire. I watched people pass by and wondered if they knew or thought of the history beneath their feet.
Curious about other histories and sites (marked and unmarked) I may be passing by in the American South, I began to research. I started with the founding of the Klan, as I vaguely knew it was founded not far from where I grew up. In Pulaski, Tennessee, I found the room where the six original members created the KKK. The original 1800s Historical Marker on the building has been unbolted, and rebolted so that only the back of the marker may be seen.
Over the next several years, I traveled repeatedly through Mississippi, Tennessee, Georgia, Alabama, and Louisiana, and documented sites where Civil Rights era atrocities, Klan activities, and slave trade occurred. In Money, Mississippi, I visited the remains of the store where 14-year-old Emmett Till allegedly whistled at a white woman, and the Tallahatchie River, where he was dumped after being tortured and disfigured. I traveled to Midnight, Mississippi, the birthplace of Rainey Poole, and saw the Sunflower River, where Poole was dumped after his murder in 1970. There are no markers in these places.
The Southern landscape is swallowing up these and other sites, as time is also burying these histories and leaving families without a sense of closure or justice. In this body of work, I am investigating how the affects of this history still reverberate in these communities and in the landscape. I hope to create this context in my photographs, and to remember these individuals and events through the images I am taking.
I am drawn to narratives centered around moments of conflict and great transformation and moved by a desire to understand how individuals and communities respond to these moments. I have found each of the sites included here through research, and more importantly, have met and talked to family members and local people about the person who was lost, and the effects it had on both the family and the community. I have collected many of these conversations in audio oral histories. These histories are fresh for the people that lived them. In the majority of these cases, there was no justice, or justice came late, when cases were reopened in the 1990s and 2000s. The justice system failed, and this history must also be considered and called to account, as the effects of this history still linger.
My larger body of work is about families and communities. This project is absolutely about that. It is a meditation and a recapturing. These images are renewed representations of these events- some of which have been excluded from the collective and mediated retelling of this period in American history.