On April 24, the acclaimed filmmaker Carvin Eison visited campus for a lecture on “The Memory of Place: Sin, Pictures, and Progress” that was sponsored by the Charlene M. Tanner Speaker Series.
This lecture dove into racial injustice, the life of Frederick Douglass and James Baldwin and the need for increased awareness of diversity and inclusion. Through the use of articulate words and a large array of photographs, Eison brought to light the harsh history of racial injustice.
Eison opened the lecture by rolling a small snippet of one of his films, “The Shadows of a Lynching Tree.” This small shot set the mood for what information was to come. As the video clip came to a close, Eison stated his intentions behind the piece.
“I’m going to bring clarity to what happens when people are kidnapped, enslaved, dehumanized and subjected to violence and terror,” Eison said.
Following his personal introduction, Eison began the lecture diving into the legacy of Douglass. The research, relayed to the audience, brought light to the harsh treatment Douglass experienced throughout his life. He continued by describing the influence this harsh treatment led to Douglass’ accomplishments and revolutionary actions. This description of Douglass led to a connection of racism and the need for change.
The lecture soon transitioned to the topic of “The Memory of Place,” Eison’s main essence of concern for the lecture. “The Memory of Place” or episodic memory formation is believed to be the key to our own development. Eison went on to explain the importance of episodic memory development in every aspect of our lives. It was referenced frequently throughout the rest of the lecture as well, making the needed connection to every heavy topic discussed.
Episodic Memory Formation shifted the topic to the town of Waco, Texas. The audience was walked through the tragic events in Waco, Texas, leading all the way back to May of 1916, when the lynching of a young African American boy took place, inspiring the film “The Shadows of a Lynching Tree.”
After the mention of young Jesse Washington, the documentary was played once more narrating and showcasing through photos the harsh and gruesome reality of American History during the lynching of the young boy.
Eison quoted Douglas’ “Lessons of the Hour, 1894” to drive home his points about racial injustice in America: “We claim to be a Christian country and a highly civilized nation, yet I fearlessly affirm that there is nothing in the history of savages to surpass the blood-chilling horror and fiendish excesses perpetrated against the colored people by the so called Enlightened and Christian people of the South.”
Continuing through the lecture, Eison began to highlight a few men who introduced the use of Scientific Racism. Those men were Josiah Clark Nott, George R. Glibbons and Samuel George Morton. With these men at high point of the lecture, the audience was introduced to the ideas these men had about the way African Americans should be viewed — either as men or oxen. These discussions were pinpointed on the level of intelligence African Americans were capable of holding based on the scientific study of phrenology.
The presentation soon turned to the story of Baldwin, with a short highlight of pictures in society and society’s past. Baldwin was introduced through the reading of one of his short stories, “Going to Meet the Man.” This short story led to the weighted mention of lynching photography, made more impactful by the use of video showcasing historical photos people believed were worth sending through the mail.
As the lecture came to a close, Eison looped back to the importance of Douglas’ “Lessons of the Hour, 1894” once more quoting, “But my friends, I must stop. Time and strength are not equal to the task before me, but could I be heard by this great nation, I would call to mind the ideas it secluded at its birth. Put away your race and prejudice. Banish the idea that one class must rule over another. Recognize the fact that the rights of the humblest citizen are as worth of protection as those of the highest, and your problems will be solved, and your republic will stand and flourish forever.”
He concluded with the definition of progress, connecting directly with each and every audience member. This connection was formed with the words of our Mercy Mission, each core value pushing the students to make a difference in the community.