black Americans were lynched between 1890 and 1960. Over forty years later,
Sherrilyn Ifill's On the Courthouse Lawn examines the numerous ways that
this racial trauma still resounds across the United States. While the
lynchings and their immediate aftermath were devastating, the little-known
contemporary consequences, such as the marginalization of political and
economic development for black Americans, are equally pernicious.
On the Courthouse Lawn investigates how the lynchings implicated average
white citizens, some of whom actively participated in the violence, while
many others witnessed the lynchings but did nothing to stop them. Ifill
observes that this history of complicity has become embedded in the social
and cultural fabric of local communities, who either supported, condoned, or
ignored the violence. She traces the lingering effects of two lynchings in
Maryland to illustrate how ubiquitous this history is and issues a clarion
call for American communities with histories of racial violence to be
proactive in facing this legacy today.
Inspired by South Africa's Truth and Reconciliation Commission, as well as
by techniques of restorative justice, Ifill provides concrete ideas to help
communities heal, including placing gravestones on the unmarked burial sites
of lynching victims, issuing public apologies, establishing mandatory school
programs on the local history of lynching, financially compensating those
whose family homes or businesses were destroyed in the aftermath of
lynching, and creating commemorative public spaces. Because the contemporary
effects of racial violence are experienced most intensely in local
communities, Ifill argues thatreconciliation and reparation efforts must
also be locally based in order to bring both black and white Americans
together in an efficacious dialogue.
A landmark book, On the Courthouse Lawn is a much-needed and urgent road map
for communities finally confronting lynching's long shadow by embracing
pragmatic reconciliation and reparation efforts.
"Professor Ifill has written a sobering and eye-opening book on one of
America's darkest secrets. On the Courthouse Lawn offers a compelling
examination of lynchings and describes the failure of people and
institutions to adequately address one of America's tragedies. Racial
amnesia would suggest we forget this history. Professor Ifill assures us
that we cannot--and should not--forget it. This is a must read for anyone
willing to examine our history carefully and learn from it."
--Professor Charles J. Ogletree, Jr., Jesse Climenko Professor of Law,
Harvard Law School, and executive director of the Charles Hamilton Houston
Institute for Race and Justice
"On the Courthouse Lawn is an elegantly written and persuasively argued case
for local communities to confront their history of lynching and racial
violence as a means of healing race relations. Explaining how Truth and
Reconciliation worked in South Africa, Ifill explores the possibilities and
offers concrete advice on how it could be widely employed in the United
States. It is certainly worth trying."
--Mary Frances Berry, Geraldine R. Segal Professor of American Social
Thought and professor of History, University of Pennsylvania
"In calm, objective but no less moving detail, Sherrilyn Ifill's book
provides the stories that illuminate the photographs and postcards
oflynchings, the punishment meted out to some 5,000 black people deemed
guilty without trial for matters large and small during the first half of
the twentieth century. Too late for justice for the victims of lynch law,
Professor Ifill urges that an American version of South Africa's Truth and
Reconciliation Commission could bring long-denied acknowledgment to whites
and a measure of consolation to blacks."
--Derrick Bell, author of Faces at the Bottom of the Well and Ethical