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The Legacy of Lynchings in Halloween Decorations

Halloween is a time for "gallows humor," but macabre displays of fake bodies swaying from trees are not a laughing matter for those who understand the legacy of lynching in America.

From Crystal Lake, Florida, to Stratford, Connecticut, hanging dummies have been stirring up debate and protest. This year, however, we’ve had almost non-stop news coverage of noose-related incidents following the events in Jena, Louisiana. Could it be that we still need a primer on one of the more violent chapters of America’s history?

An article in the SF Gate talks more generally about the spate of noose incidents that have made news recently. Sherrilyn Ifill, a Beacon author whose book On the Courthouse Lawn chronicles the history of lynching in America, addresses the disconnect between white and black perceptions of the image of the noose:

"Many white people are unaware of the incredible power of the lynching story for African Americans," said Sherrilyn Ifill, a professor of law at the University of Maryland and a former civil rights attorney. "Lynching was a message crime. It served to tell the black community that there were boundaries. Don't get too educated. Don't vote. Don't get too wealthy. Don't look at a white woman.

"It was not just used to punish an individual, but to serve as a threat to others."

What can you do to be more sensitive to the racial overtones of certain types of Halloween imagery? Diary of an Anxious Black Woman offers a few tips on how to avoid racist subtexts in your Halloween decorations, costumes, and how you interact with trick or treaters. It's an excellent, informative read.

Happy Halloween!