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'Unmasked' anti-lynching exhibit opens at Crispus Attucks Museum

Posted at 7:32 AM, Aug 11, 2023
and last updated 2023-08-11 07:32:19-04

INDIANAPOLIS — It was once an all-too common public expression of white supremacy.

Lynching is rooted in American history.

A new exhibit in Indianapolis is trying to give a face to the victims and “unmask” the perpetrators.

Unmasked: The Anti-Lynching Exhibits of 1935 and Community Remembrance in Indiana opens Friday at the Crispus Attucks Museum.

Professor of History at Indiana University Alex Lichtenstein says the exhibit was seven years in the making.

“One put on by the NAACP, National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, one put on by the John Reed Club, at the time the communist party," Lichtenstein said.

The art installation reimagines two historic exhibitions of anti-lynching art held in 1935.

One of the images you’ll get to see here in the exhibit is the lynching of J. Thomas Shipp and Abram S. Smith.

The African-American men were murdered in a spectacle lynching by a group of thousands in 1930 in Marion, Indiana.

Pain that still exists for Black Hoosiers today.

"'Unmasked' portrays the idea that we want to make sure that the perpetrators are visible," Lichtenstein said.

The exhibit showcases images of the victims, the perpetrators and the family and community members left behind.

In addition to the historical images and artwork, visitors will get the chance to see contemporary efforts in 2023.

“The only way we’re gonna remember and combat this form of racism is to commemorate it, ideally physically, with physical markers," Lichtenstein said.

Lichtenstein says it’s important to talk about these campaigns because instances of racial violence are still relevant decades later in 2023.

“Vigilante attacks on African Americans, especially this past weekend in Montgomery, AL or Ahmaud Arbery in Georgia, police violence against people of color, most notably George Floyd but of course as we know that’s one of many," Lichtenstein said.

The exhibit had a five week run at IU Bloomington campus.

In that time, 850 people experienced the installation through guided tours.

“We felt this was an appropriate space in part because of its own history and its rootedness in African American history of Indianapolis," Lichtenstein said.

Curator Robert Chester says having the museum at Crispus Attucks High School gives students at Indianapolis Public Schools and beyond access to the knowledge they need to understand their history.

“The museum basically highlights, holds, captures and shares the history, legacy, the integrity of the early foundations and formations of the High School, the black community and how we have overcome and managed to remove barriers, obstacles, set records, break records and make history," Chester said.

Chester says the need for an anti-lynching exhibit like 'Unmasked' is greater now more than ever.

“There’s still a huge area of the American experience that still operating in an 18th century mentality. I’m talking 1700s moving forward — that is the complexion of your skin determines who you are, where you are, what you do in life, where you can or cannot go," he said.

After its time in Indy, the exhibit will be on display in New Albany, and South Bend, Indiana.

Plan your visit:
Crispus Attucks Museum August 15, 2023-March 1, 2024
1140 Dr. MLK Jr. St., Indianapolis
Museum Hours (by appointment only) Mon–Fri 10am–6pm; Sat–Sun 10am–3pm
317.409.5281 or 317.226.2432