Traveling exhibit to honor five victims of lynching in Anderson

"I use my art to heal"

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Art exhibit to honor five victims of lynchings

Anderson County will have a traveling art exhibit in 2022 that honors five victims of lynchings.

The five people who were killed are Edward Sullivan, Elbert Harris, John Laddison, Reuben Elrod and Willis Jackson, according to Stuart Sprague, who helped the project that identified these men.

They were all killed at the hands of white mobs between 1894 and 1911, near the end of Reconstruction.

“We would like to memorialize these men who were unjustly taken out, whipped, beaten, hanged, shot with bullets and, in every case, no one was ever held accountable,” Sprague said at the start of the project.

Art that heals

Fire, gas cans, lanterns.

Those items stood out to artist and Anderson native Herman Keith as he made connections between the photos of the five lynchings in Anderson County.

Keith, who painted a large mural on Orr Street, has been commissioned through a $25,000 Duke Energy grant to create the sculpture. 

As he researched for this sculpture, Keith said he felt fortunate.

Fortunate that he could tell a story through his art that spoke of healing.

Herman Keith, Jr. puts up 5-foot by 5-foot squares of polytab mural cloth on Orr Street in downtown Anderson County. (Photo Credit: Ken Ruinard of the Independent Mail)

“I really wanted to allow my art to heal communities, in order to expand the understanding culturally,” the Howard University graduate said.

History was a big part of Keith’s upbringing, and images of the Black experience in America frequented his mind growing up, he said. 

The final look of the exhibit will be a surprise, but a sculpture will display jars of soil from the five sites where the lynchings occurred. The statue will be mirrored after other similar exhibits at the Equal Justice Initiative (EJI) in Montgomery, Keith said. 

Honoring the five lynching victims through this exhibit in 2022 can shed light on how far our communities have come, and how far they still need to go, he said.

Keith said he doesn’t want his art to cast blame or shame. He simply wants it to inspire love and showcase the reverence of life and these five lives. 

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