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Without Sanctuary

This morning I was privileged enough to be given the opportunity to take a preview tour of the Without Sanctuary exhibit at the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center in Cincinnati, Ohio.  I was part of a group of about 10 people granted the opportunity to walk through the exhibit, share my feedback, and now tell others my thoughts.

Without Sanctuary is a display of photographs, newspaper articles, and various cultural artifacts that depict the more than 4,000 lynchings that took place in The United States of America between 1882 and 1968.  I never realized how widespread and common this barbaric practice was in the United States.  There were more than 26 lynchings in Ohio alone.  One took place in my childhood home of Springfield, Ohio at the intersection of Main Street and Fountain Avenue.  I know this intersection well.  It is in the heart of the city, which at that time would have been bustling with people.  I was able to read an account of the event, picture where it took place, and visualize the horror that must have surrounded that tragic day in the early 1900’s.

In fact, many of these lynchings were quasi-social events, put on in plain view of the public.  I had always assumed that most of these events took place under the cover of darkness, far from the view of society.  Photo after photos showed people smiling and mugging for the camera as puzzled children looked on at the victims who had been brutally put to death.  These were common people, actively and passively engaging in atrocities against humanity – very disturbing.  Many of the photographs had actually been made into postcards by attendees of the lynchings, who then sent them to fellow family members to tell them about the event.  To think that modern man is capable of such callous acts of evil is frightening, confusing, sickening and sad.

Without Sanctuary also features a reflection room, where you can stop and write down your thoughts about the exhibit in a public journal.  You can also draw on a public whiteboard or record and share a video testimonial.  After seeing something so powerful and disturbing, it was good to have a few moments to gather my thoughts, reflect on the meaning of this, and move forward back into the “real world.”

My take away can be summed up with one of the signature quotes for the event.  It is as follows:

“We must remember, because if the world forgets evil, evil is reborn.”  – W.E.B. DuBois

The exhibit was educational, painful, and powerful.  While this is not something that people want to see, I believe it is something people need to see.  We are a nation preparing to celebrate the one year anniversary of our first African American President.  It is easy to assume that with this milestone, the demons of our past have been put to rest forever.  While it is true that we have made significant progress as a nation, we must remember that we are not so far removed from our  these horrific days in our history.  As we move forward, we must not forget our past, but rather learn from it.  When we see injustice, we must have the courage to intervene.  When the very fabric of humanity is being ripped apart before blindly staring eyes, someone must have the courage to cast a light upo

n the darkness.  Without Sanctuary puts a bright and shining spotlight on the very face of evil.  Stare into that face.  It is shown in picture after picture.  It is a face very similar to your own.  Understand what the face of evil looks like, and let it not resemble you or me.  More importantly let it never manifest itself on the faces of our children.

I hope that you will take the time to see the exhibit.  My feeble description in this post does not do it justice, but I hope it convinces you to see it for yourself.  I extend my thanks to Pete Blackshaw, Kevin Dugan, and Paul Bernish who were kind enough to invite me to check it out.  Thank you.