Date of Award

Summer 7-8-2011

Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



First Advisor

Dr. James F. Darsey

Second Advisor

Dr. Alessandra Raengo

Third Advisor

Dr. Nathan Atkinson

Fourth Advisor

Dr. George Pullman

Fifth Advisor

Dr. A. Susan Owen


Lynching photographs and images of spectacle lynching were originally produced to commemorate and celebrate lynching. Through processes of rhetorical re-circulation and repurposing of lynching photographs by those in the anti-lynching movement, lynching and visual representations of it became socially unacceptable. The rhetorical strategies concerning the display of images of violence toward African Americans developed in the anti-lynching movement became one of the most important means of protesting civil rights violations in the United States. This study examines three cases of repurposing lynching photographs during the peak of the anti-lynching movement in the 1930’s. The first is the NAACP sponsored Art Commentary on Lynching. I examine four pieces of art in this exhibition that violate the conventions of lynching photography by representing the lynching in other visual mediums that allow the artists to manipulate the lynching scene. The second chapter examines the generation and circulation of an anti-lynching pamphlet featuring a photograph of the lynching of Rubin Stacy. The photograph is repurposed through the interaction of text and image in the pamphlet in a series of rhetorical questions, details of the case, and general information about lynching. The third case is the song, “Strange Fruit.” The song conjures an image through its use of ekphrasis, and suggests a particular reading of that image throughout the performance of the song. I focus on Billie Holiday’s rendition of the song, but draw conclusions about the song and its various performances and recordings. I argue that the use and manipulation of lynching photographs raised social consciousness and public awareness in opposition to spectacle lynching, and re-articulated the meaning of violence, and representations of violence, toward African Americans in the public sphere.


Included in

Communication Commons