Mari N. CrabtreeApr 8, 2023
My Soul Is a Witness
The Traumatic Afterlife of Lynching
Yale University Press 2023
In My Soul Is a Witness: The Traumatic Afterlife of Lynching (Yale UP, 2023), Mari N. Crabtree traces the long afterlife of lynching in the South through the traumatic memories it left in its wake. She unearths how African American victims and survivors found ways to live through and beyond the horrors of lynching, offering a theory of African American collective trauma and memory rooted in the ironic spirit of the blues sensibility--a spirit of misdirection and cunning that blends joy and pain.
Black southerners often shielded their loved ones from the most painful memories of local lynchings with strategic silences but also told lynching stories about vengeful ghosts or a wrathful God or the deathbed confessions of a lyncher tormented by his past. They protested lynching and its legacies through art and activism, and they mourned those lost to a mob's fury. They infused a blues element into their lynching narratives to confront traumatic memories and keep the blues at bay, even if just for a spell. Telling their stories troubles the simplistic binary of resistance or submission that has tended to dominate narratives of Black life and reminds us that amid the utter devastation of lynching were glimmers of hope and an affirmation of life.
Adam McNeil is a Ph.D. Candidate in History at Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey.