By Celeste-Marie Bernier
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Extra info for African American Visual Arts (British Association for American Studies (BAAS) Paperbacks)
Hanging of William Biggerstaff (flanked by Fred Hoss and Henry Jurgens) in particular contrasts the mutilated body of a now unknown man with the grim expressions of the white men standing on either side. These white men are dressed in suits, wear hats and parade their watchchains to reinforce their status as respected members of the community. For Ball, theirs is a greater inhumanity as they show no signs of regret for what they have seen and done in cold blood and with due process of law. This work signifies upon a history of lynchings to communicate the terrifying reality that, rather than being the crackpot work of extreme individuals, vigilante mob rule had the approval of mainstream white society.
For the slave potter there was more to be gained by caricaturing whites rather than blacks. By stereotyping white facial features so that slave owners would not recognise themselves, black artists may have found a way to obtain agency and defeat white racist illusions of superiority. Given that they challenged white tendencies to objectify black physicality and reduce African Americans to no more than their chattel status, the power of these images may arise in their ability to convey both realities at the same time.
These discoveries make it impossible to doubt that these African bodies were buried according to non-European cultural practices. The grave of one unnamed woman in particular, poignantly known only as Burial #340, includes a ‘strand of about 111 waist beads’ consisting of cowrie shells as well as glass and amber beads (Hansen and McGowan, 1998: 41). ). ). Other archaeological finds have shown that ‘blue beads’ are ‘disproportionately present on AfricanAmerican sites in the Southeast’ (Thomas, 1998: 545).