Lynching in America – An EJI Project

This week in my Digital Humanities seminar, the class discussion  and readings centered on making a case for digital humanities projects and creating criteria for review. As an African American rhetoric and writing scholar with an interest in visual rhetoric, user experience (UX), and participatory design, I decided to look for a project to review that would speak to each of my intersecting interests. One project I found on an African American digital humanities resource page was from the Equal Justice Initiative:  “Lynching in America: Confronting the Legacy of Racial Terror.”

A Brief Review

The Equal Justice Initiative (EJI) was founded in 1989 by Bryon Stevenson who currently serves as their executive director. According to their website,  “EJI is a  private 501 (c)(3) nonprofit organization committed to challenging racial and economic injustices and providing legal representation to people who have been illegally convicted unfairly sentenced or abused in state jails and prisons” (about).  The project “Lynching in America” is an extensive project and the first of its kind that builds off of the initial report by infusing audio, visual, interactive  maps, lesson plans, and a comprehensive report on lynchings in America made available to download. With the support of Google, this project is a digital experience that will take you through an embodied experience and educational journey through America’s painful past in order to reconcile our present and future.

The project itself is housed on a website. The front page sets the tone of the experience, with two images that are contrasted with a dark filter. The left image portrays a large gathering which is somewhat unclear what is taking place, and on the right is a large open field. With the bold white heading “LYNCHING IN AMERICA” and subtitle “confronting the legacy of racial terror” site visitors have the option to enter using the downward scroll arrow.

The next page is a brief summary which also serves as the project description. Keeping a simple black background and white text allows readers to not be distracted but instead to focus on the short but powerful paragraph. The summary provides explanation for the “why” of this project. Shortly after abolishing slavery, lynching became a tool to control Black people through vicious terror and suppressing their civil rights. They also share immediately that over 4,000 lynchings occurred against African Americans across 20 states from 1877 to 1950, stating this acts of violence as “racial terrorism” and “racial terror lynchings” Though brief, the introduction to the site does a few things. It identifies the problem while pointing out the affects of lynchings is still felt today.

The next page breaks down the different interactive components to the digital experience. The page is broken up into a grid of 6 showing the different components of the project. Visitors can listen to audio from generations affected by lynching, watch a film, engage with an interactive map, read an extensive report on the study, learn more about the EJI/lynching project, and get involved. I found the layout to be easy to navigate and also a self-directed experience. Because there is no navigation menu, you can decide which section you want to explore first in no particular order. However, if you would like to follow the order of the site authors, by continuing to scroll down it appears each page occurs in the order presented on the grid.

Without going too in depth on each section of the project, I would like to point out a few things that immediately stand out. The audio experience appears to be carefully and well thought out. There are three listening options in addition to listening on the main platform: Google Play, Sound Cloud, Apple Music. I found this to be helpful, especially if someone is viewing on a device that only allows a certain listening provider. The stories themselves are a mixture of emotions and each one portrays a different perspective on how the legacy of lynching has affected their family or themselves.

The short film sheds light on the impact of lynching within a family and why they hadn’t been back to the South in 100 years. Their story helps to understand the great migration North that many Blacks took, fleeing these racial terror lynchings that were rapidly taking place. This and more is displayed in the interactive visual map with data provided by the U.S Census Bureau. Hearing the stories and then seeing the numbers on the map, identified by states and color gave me another way of understanding the impact of racial injustices and lynchings on African Americans for decades.

What makes this project so unique is  how everything is brought together into one digital experience. The interviews and interactive components is presented in a way to engage both educators and non academics. The extensive report almost felt like walking through a museum, with images and text to get a better sense of how lynching and racial violence evolved in the United States. There is also an option to download a lesson plan of the report for high school teachers and the full report for those who want a copy.  The EJI Lynching project is an example of the impact a digital humanities project can bring to researchers, policymakers, and people around the globe who want a deeper understanding of American History – no matter how painful that may be.

References

Lynching in America. Retrieved from https://lynchinginamerica.eji.org/

Reviewed by Ja’La Wourman

 

Review Criteria

  • Project statement: did the author provide a written statement or summary about the projects goals, mission, etc
  • Technical elements and methodologies: How is the project being delivered and what tools are being used. Discuss the strengths and/or weaknesses of each
  • Design choices / Project features (images, text, objects, symbols, audio, layout): Identify the choices made and how they meet the projects goal
  • Ease of use (usability): Does the project function in the way its intended? How does each component work and is there difficulty navigating any part?
  • Accessibility: Are there clearly identifiable areas that may be difficult for viewers/readers to use due to design choices or project format?
  • Contribution to the field: Is there a significant contribution being made through this project? Explain.
  • Originality: Is this project an original idea? How does it make a contribution to the digital humanities?

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