The Equal Justice Initiative (EJI) is a private 501 (c)(3) nonprofit organization committed to challenging racial and economic injustices while providing legal representation to people who have been illegally convicted unfairly sentenced or abused in state jails and prisons. The project “Lynching in America” is an interactive digital project that displays findings from the report Lynching in America: Confronting the Legacy of Racial Terror. The website is masterfully done, by infusing audio, visual, interactive maps, lesson plans, and a comprehensive report on lynchings in America made available to download for educators. 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 with an opening page that allows for users to scroll down or click on the title page in order to access the contents of the site. For users who scroll down, there 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 and premise of the project.
The main page breaks down the different interactive components to the digital experience. The page is broken up into a grid with 6 categories to choose from. 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. Similar to many collaborative Digital Humanities projects, you get a sense that several people have contributed to the development of the final site. The interviews and interactive components is presented in a way to engage both educators and non academics, making this an open-access experience for the public. 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.
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.