SCOTTSBORO, ALABAMA: A Story in Linoleum Cuts
Release date: 06/01/2002
The largely suppressed Communist tradition in the United States comes to light in this time capsule of a book. Andrew H. Lee, a librarian at New York University's Tamiment Library, came upon a sheaf of 118 bound linocuts documenting the notorious Scottsboro case, in which nine black youths were framed for rape in 1931 and sentenced to death. Produced in 1935 with an introduction by New Masses journalist Mike Gold, the prints tell the story of the case with powerful social realist images and block text, conceiving it in terms of "white and negro toilers" "rising up against the tyrant master" and "the ruling class" in solidarity and outrage. The six-year legal battle that was forced largely by activists resulted in two Supreme Court decisions and the eventual release of the defendants—those who had not died in jail or escaped. At present, nothing is known of Khan or Perez, who is presumed to be a printmaker. As the introduction by NYU historian Robin D.G. Kelly (Yo Mama's Dysfunktional!) makes clear, the book documents Communist and union mobilization around the case, and it testifies to a spirit of cooperation for justice that remains deeply relevant. (Aug.)
Forecast:This book could be provocatively and meaningfully displayed with Tom Feelings's The Middle Passage, a darkly magisterial set of historical drawings; Without Sanctuary: Lynching Photography in America; and with a recent eponymous catalogue of artist Laylah Ali's controversial, comic-like work, available from Boston's Institute of Contemporary Art. (A book of artist Kara Walker's powerful silhouettes will be available from D.A.P. in October.) On the scholarly side, Philip Dray's At the Hands of Persons Unknown: The Lynching of Black America, James S. Hirsch's Riot and Remembrance: The Tulsa Race War and Its Legacy and David W. Blight's Race and Reunion: The Civil War in American Memory are three excellent recent books involving lynching.