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The Sad History of Lynching Postcards.

Tens of thousands of African-American men, women, and children were lynched by mobs in the United States between 1882 and 1968. Some of these lynchings were photographed, and the photos were saved as souvenirs, and were even sometimes used as postcards. Antique dealer James Allen came across these disturbing images and began to collect them. His collection is currently on display at the New York Historical Society. The book about Allen’s collection, called “Without Sanctuary: Lynching Photography in America” (Twin Palms Publishers) was published earlier this year.


Other segments from the episode on March 21, 2000

Fresh Air with Terry Gross, March 21, 2000: Interview with James Allen; Review of the television show "The Beat."


Date: MARCH 21, 2000
Time: 12:00
Tran: 032101np.217
Head: Exhibit Features James Allen's Collection of Lynching Photographs
Sect: News; Domestic
Time: 12:06

This is a rush transcript. This copy may not
be in its final form and may be updated.

TERRY GROSS, HOST: From WHYY in Philadelphia, I'm Terry Gross with FRESH AIR.

GROSS: On today's FRESH AIR, lynchings, and the picture postcards of them that were sold as mementos. These grotesque souvenirs of the late 1800s and early 1900s show mostly African-American men strung up as crowds of whites watched. They've been collected by James Allen in a new book called "Without Sanctuary: Lynching Photography in America." The postcards are now on exhibit at the New York Historical Society. We'll talk with Allen about what these photos tell us about lynching victims, the perpetrators, and the spectators.

Also, TV critic David Bianculli reviews "The Beat," the new cop drama by Tom Fontana and Barry Levinson, the same team that brought us "Homicide."

That's all coming up on FRESH AIR.

First, the news.


GROSS: I'm Terry Gross, and this is FRESH AIR.

One of the ugliest parts of American history, lynching, was actually commemorated in its time with picture postcards, postcards of people, mostly African-American men, swinging from trees, lampposts, and bridges, while white spectators watched in approval.

The postcards were sold as mementos in the late 1800s and early 1900s. An estimated 4,700 people were lynched between 1882 and 1944.

My guest, James Allen, has collected these grotesque souvenirs so that we can see and better understand this awful part of our past. The postcards are reprinted in the book "Without Sanctuary: Lynching Photography in America." In an introduction, historian Leon Litwak (ph) writes that "The intent of the show is to depict the extent and quality of the violence unleashed on black men and women in the name of enforcing black deference and subordination."

The postcards are on exhibit now at the New York Historical Society. The display is so powerful "The New York Times" ran an editorial about its importance.

I asked James Allen to describe one of the postcards that he found particularly disturbing.

JAMES ALLEN, "WITHOUT SANCTUARY": One of the postcards that and the incidents that has really disturbed me with time is the image of Jess Washington of Waco, Texas. We have in our archives several images of that lynching. Particularly disturbing is the mass of people, 15,000 people, that came to relish the torture that day. And some of the photos were taken from the mayor's office window.

A particular image in that series is Jess Washington hanging from a recently raised telephone pole, and he has been -- this is after he was tortured and burned alive at the stake -- that they dragged him six miles to Robinson, Texas, and hung him up for a crowd to see.

They put a loincloth around him and a man by the name of Joe Myers purchased this card, put an X over his head, sent it home to his mother, and wrote on the back, "This is the barbecue we had last night. My picture's to the left with a cross over it. Your son, Joe."

GROSS: How did you get that particular postcard?

ALLEN: This particular card came to us from a man in Texas who we've established a relationship for. He owns the gas station and buys things from people in the community. And so when he finds a card that -- anything that's racially -- has racial overtones, he calls us and we purchase it and put it in the collection.

Another thing about this card which I forgot to mention is that it was used as an advertisement for -- the photographer has a stamp on the back called "K.D. Electric Studio, Temple, Texas, H. Lipp, Proprietor."

GROSS: So you're supposed to call him and ask him to do your family photos after seeing this lynching?

ALLEN: Exactly. Fifteen thousand people would have been a tremendous amount, percentage, of the population of that county to be there at that incident, and the mayor's main concern during the incident was that the tree, the central oak tree, that it -- what they used to chain him to and to raise him in and out of the fire so they could prolong his death, would not be harmed.

GROSS: One thing I want to mention about the photograph of this lynching is that, you know, as you said, the person's body was burned before it was lynched. And the only thing left of this man's two legs are two charred stumps.

What was the function of these lynching postcards? Was this supposed to, like, commemorate the hanging that you attended?

ALLEN: They were -- besides the obvious function of sensationalism and the profitable nature of these images for photographers, many of them were sold on the streets, in drugstores, through the mail, a photographer could, I'm sure, gain an annual income off of a single lynching incident. They served to bond the white community together in supremacy. They also were news events that were highly covered by the press, so these images were small newspapers that people posted through the mail and sent to their relatives to say, This is what happened in our home town.

GROSS: These lynching picture postcards were outlawed by the postmaster general in 1908. What reason did the postmaster general give for outlawing the picture postcards?

ALLEN: Well, the postmaster general actually outlawed any images that were inciteful, could incite violence. That was the general nature of that postal -- change of postal regulations. But it really came out of the prolific number of images that were being sold that proved to be an embarrassment to state governments and city governments, and to regions like the South, that was being harmed by the rash of lynchings over the decades, both nationally and internationally.

GROSS: You feel really awful looking at these lynching photographs, because they're so brutal, they're so grotesque. It's the ultimate violation of the victims. Why do you want them on exhibit?

ALLEN: Well, to begin with, to respond to your question, you hit it right on the head. It isn't just the ultimate violation, it was every violation possible. There wasn't any way that was ignored. They were as creative as possible in dis -- in torture and in domination of African-Americans. It's very important that we all see these images and see the possibility for racial violence in ourselves, and in what way we actually at out violence in areas perhaps not with violence but with thought and word and deed and also with silence in our communities today.

GROSS: Do you think that we can learn a lot about the history of lynchings, who was lynched, who was responsible for the lynchings, by looking at these photographs?

ALLEN: Oh, absolutely. The people who were ashamed of these lynchings left, people who were disgusted with the theater and the painful torture, brutality, they're not in these photos. The people who are left are the people who were proud, they gloried in the event just like a dog that rolls around in dirt. They wanted to be there, and they wanted people to see them.

And we -- they are very informative, because Americans, white and black, have never had an opportunity to see these images. So we don't have a visual vocabulary of what this type of hate and violence really is. It's not something we see in ourselves as a nation. We promote ourselves on a higher plane, moral plane. So this is a reality check, and also a new chance to think things over, to stop discounting African-Americans' complaints and stop and consider the fact that what they are saying might really have validity. Yes, racial profiling does happen, yes, there is a disparity of black and white people, men and women on death row.

And that, those things are a direct outcome of this period where the law in the communities sanctioned violence against African-Americans. It wasn't just a few people. This would not have happened without the participation of all branches of government.

GROSS: There's one photograph from January of 1916, the lynching of John Richards. And Richards is hanging from a tree with his pants pulled down. And several of the guys responsible for the lynching are smiling over an open coffin that is waiting for Richards. And this is a photograph from Goldsboro, North Carolina.

There's pictures of victims who have been burned or shot before or after the hanging. In fact, you say, I think, that shooting the dead body was a common sport.

ALLEN: Absolutely. Some of the bodies were so full of lead that they were difficult to move. They -- everyone wanted to participate. In one lynching in Kentucky, they actually sold tickets. I can't remember, it was 5 cents of 50 cents a ticket. And that got you a seat in a theater and a shot of the victim.

GROSS: My guest is James Allen. His collection of lynching photographs are on exhibit at the New York Historical Society, and they're collected in the new book "Without Sanctuary." More after a break.

This is FRESH AIR.


GROSS: My guest, James Allen, has collected picture postcards of lynchings in his new book, "Without Sanctuary."

Most of the pictures of lynchings are pictures of men being lynched, but there are a couple of women. One of them is a picture of Laura Nelson and her son, hung side by side from a bridge over a river. And the spectators are all lined up on top of the bridge looking down at the swinging bodies. This is from May of 1911 in Okemah, Oklahoma. I'm not sure if I'm pronouncing that correctly.

ALLEN: That's right, Okemah.

GROSS: What do you know about this particular lynching?

ALLEN: This was the second photo postcard that my friend John Littlefield, who built the collection for me -- he actually paid for all the images -- that we came upon, and Laura Nelson and her son and her husband had a little farm outside of Okemah. A sheriff's posse came to their cabin. The sheriff, the deputy sheriff, went inside and -- looking for stolen meat.

And somehow during this process, the son shot the deputy sheriff with a squirrel rifle. He crawled outside the cabin. A gun battle ensued in which Laura and her son kept the posse away for a couple hours, and the deputy sheriff died outside because the posse couldn't reach to help him.

They took Laura and her son to jail. Laura claimed that she did the shooting. She desperately tried to protect her son. She begged them to kill her in the prison. He was only 14 years old. They came in the middle of the night and took them by wagon, 40 men, and wagoned them 12 miles over this shiny new bridge over the Canadian River, and raped Laura Nelson and hung them from this bridge.

The saddest thing -- and this is really what motivated us to go out and really seek out these images -- is that what Laura Nelson represented was the finest qualities that we would look for in a person. And the white community, the majority, turned those into the worst qualities. They called her a small, very black, vicious woman, and her son they called yellow and cowardly.

GROSS: How did you find out the story? Was it reported in a newspaper? Were you able to find it there?

ALLEN: In this case, we were lucky, because the card had Okemah, Oklahoma, on it, so we could do the research easily. These were widely reported in the press. They sold a lot of newspapers. In the case of Leo Frank in Atlanta, Georgia, the newspapers sold up to five times the number of papers that they normally would have following his trial and then his lynching.

GROSS: I'm glad you mentioned Leo Frank. You have, I think, a couple of pictures of him in your collection. He is perhaps the most famous victim, the victim whose story a lot of people already know.

ALLEN: I think so.

GROSS: But tell us a little bit about his story anyways, for those of us who don't.

ALLEN: I'll try to tell things that aren't as known. Leo Frank's case was extremely complex. He was doomed from the outset, from the moment that he was called in the middle of the night to come down to his factory, his pencil factory, till he was lynched, pulled out of a hospital bed on a prison farm where he was supposed to be protected -- he had had his throat slashed by an inmate -- and lynched.

He was a white Northerner, industrialist, Jewish man who employed child labor in Atlanta, Georgia, where over 50 percent of the population in this industrial city lived without electricity or running water. The fact that Mary Phagan, the 13-year-old girl that he supposedly assaulted and killed, there was never proof that the girl was assaulted. There actually was proof that she had been sexually active. But the point is that killing a black man for this crime was not good enough for the people of Atlanta. They wanted something -- a greater victim, because black people weren't worth enough and weren't equal, what they called the purity and innocence of this little girl.

So Atlanta was enraged and thrilled with the possibility of a Yankee Jew, dirty Jew, wealthy man, to take out their hatred and complaints on.

GROSS: Leo Frank was lynched in August of 1915. In 1985, he was posthumously pardoned.

ALLEN: There was plenty of evidence that Jim Connolly, the black custodian, had committed the crime. There was plenty of evidence during the trial. But the prosecutor, Hugh Dorsey (ph), made tremendous gains. They kept -- actually kept Jim Connolly as a witness in prison during the entire trial and changed his confession to meet any new evidence that came up.

GROSS: Describe the postcards that you have of the Leo Frank hanging.

ALLEN: In the archive that we keep at Emory University on long-term loan -- it's available for scholars and students and people doing serious documentaries to use -- we have six images of Leo Frank. Perhaps they all have a single characteristic that is the most unsettling, and that is the nonchalance of the white men, rural-looking white men, canine thin, that amble about in the woods almost in total disregard to the corpse that's dangling between them.

It's daytime, there's no shame. It's as if they didn't care at all, as if it was a nonevent. But yet they have to hang around. They have to be in the photographs. Every one of the cards of Leo Frank were made in the thousands and sold on the streets outside the funeral parlor where his body was taken to. They had to open up the funeral parlor for three days to let the citizens in to calm them, to show them that Leo Frank was really dead.

The tree that Leo Frank was hung on had to be protected, because so many relic-hunters. The man who owned the piece of property where Leo Frank was murdered was offered hundreds of dollars more than once for that tree.

GROSS: Would you say that these were probably among the most widely sold lynching photographs?

ALLEN: Yes, absolutely. These postcards were the most common form of souvenirs of these lynchings that they correspond, in a sanitized way, to the harvesting and gathering of body parts and ashes, hair. Many victims were completely stripped as people took pieces of their clothings and their shoes. They mounted these in frames and made trophies of them. They put them in jars and put them in their store windows. They traded them like trade cards.

GROSS: You haven't found any human artifacts in your search for these photographs, have you?

ALLEN: We have.

GROSS: You have?

ALLEN: Yes, we have.

GROSS: What have you found?

ALLEN: We only purchased one, because we just couldn't bear the thought of having them around us. We have a -- and it is in the exhibit -- we have a framed image of the lynching of Abram and Smith, two African-American men from Marion, Indiana. Three years after the event, a Klan member takes his lock of the victim's hair and double-mats his photograph of the lynching in a cheap store-bought frame that you might buy to put your -- gilded frame you might by to put your grandmother's picture in, and preserves that lock of hair under the glass, and celebrates it, commemorates it as the Klan Fourth, in other words, Independence Day.

GROSS: James Allen's collection of lynching photographs are reproduced in the new book "Without Sanctuary." He'll be back in the second half of the show.

This is Billie Holiday singing Louis Allen's (ph) song about lynching, "Strange Fruit."

I'm Terry Gross, and this is FRESH AIR.


BILLIE HOLIDAY (singing): Southern trees bear a strange fruit.
Blood on the leaves and blood at the root.
Black bodies swinging in the Southern breeze.
Strange fruit hanging from the poplar trees.



GROSS: Coming up, we continue our conversation with James Allen about lynching postcards. And David Bianculli reviews "The Beat," the new cop drama created by Tom Fontana and Barry Levinson, who also created "Homicide." The beat premiers tonight on UPN.


GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross, back with antiques collector James Allen. We're talking about his collection of lynching photographs, picture postcards of lynchings that were sold to commemorate the occasion. These postcards are collected in the new book "Without Sanctuary: Lynching Photography in America." The postcards are on exhibit at the New York Historical Society.

You know, when we think of picture postcards or the postcards you usually send when you're on vacation, you write things like, "Wish you were here, having a great time." What are the kinds of messages you've found on the back of lynching postcards?

ALLEN: The lynching postcard of Leige Daniels (ph) from Center, Texas, has a message on the back, "This was made in the courtyard in Center, Texas. He is a 16-year-old black boy. He killed Earl's grandma. She was Florence's mother. Give this to Bud from Aunt Myrtle."

Another image of a lynching that took place in Durant, Oklahoma, of Lee Hall (ph), I believe, has scratched into the negative the words, "Coon cooking."

There's a very disturbing image, perhaps just for its simplicity, of the Will James lynching of Caro, Illinois. And the image on the front of the card is a tinted, glorified image of Commercial Avenue, which was the main stream to Caro. There's a steel girder that arcs over the main street that was used to hold parade flags, circus, announcements for the circus.

But in this instance, they put an X over the arch, draw a little stick figure, and then to the left of the card another X and the words "This is where they hung the coon."

The messages add a -- like reading a diary, a heightened awareness to the attitudes of the people of the time.

GROSS: What do you know about what happened to the bodies of the people who were lynched after they were cut down?

ALLEN: We've tried to find evidence of this. It seems at the present that many of these victims can be found in unmarked graves with some effort by the communities. Several communities in the United States have sought out the grave sites now and are trying to build memorials for those victims. In one case, the victim's body, "The New York Times" wrote that the victim's body was a pink elephant on the hands of the townspeople, because nobody would come to claim it. People were scared.

In other instances, they would hire the black funeral parlor to come and take the body away. Many families were destroyed and fled after a lynching because mobs were not just satisfied with the accused -- the falsely accused in many cases, most cases -- person, they would go to the cabin and find the wife or the children and kill them as well.

GROSS: How did you find your first lynching postcard?

ALLEN: The first image came quite by accident, a coincidence. A picker had purchased a roll-top desk out of a home in Macon, Georgia, and going through the papers, found a postcard of Leo Frank in the bottom of the desk. And we didn't even have any idea what it was when we saw it. We wanted to claim it was an American. We kept looking at it, because there was no identification on it. Maybe this is an American.

Several years later, we got the lynching postcard of Laura Nelson, and that made us aware of the fact that there was a tradition of this type of photography as well as violence.

GROSS: So you had no idea that these cards existed before you stumbled on them.

ALLEN: Absolutely not. Couldn't have believed it. You can't believe it. It just doesn't fit into our sensibilities today.

GROSS: Why did you want to find more of them?

ALLEN: We were determined, after John and I traveled and called to the different archives in the country, and could not find a body of these images, and then we would show them to friends who came to the house that we thought could stand it, and in every case, irregardless of their age, no one had ever seen an image like it.

So it made us aware of how suppressed this history was and motivated us to go and find them and build an archive.

GROSS: What was your approach to tracking down more of these lynching postcards? Did you take out classified ads? What kind of doors did you knock on?

ALLEN: We are -- well, I am, my friend John's in computers, and I'm a picker, I make my living finding rare and telling objects. So I used every method available to us. We took out ads in national papers, magazines, trade papers, photograph collectors, postcard journals. We got a toll-free number so that people could call us with their material. It's 888-211-1663. We got a Web site. We traveled to dozens of shows. We mailed out thousands upon thousands of flyers to anyone that we thought might eventually run into this material.

And we went to a lot of gun shows and flea markets and distributed the flyers.

GROSS: Why gun shows?

ALLEN: We went to gun shows, as we also go to Civil War shows, because we realized early on that there were still, and I put this in quotes, "defenders of the Southern way of life" who see violence and African-Americans -- violence as appropriate and African-Americans as unstable aspects of American life, and less valued than whites.

And we realized that if we want to gather as many of these as we can, we need to find them from all sources, and that includes people who collect these, because they glorify, they're still glorifying the event.

GROSS: Have you found postcards that were passed down as family memorabilia, where the families are still kind of proud to have them, proud of what they represent?

ALLEN: We have talked to families that do have them, and consider them an important part of their family history that they're not ashamed of. We haven't been able to buy those from those families, but we have been able to purchase them from many families now who would otherwise have burned them or destroyed them, who find them in their grandfather's trunks after he dies, or the grandmother's, underneath the grandmother's bed in one case, and are shaken and ashamed.

And hopefully, and this happens a lot on our Web site, they hear about us and can contact us anonymously and become assured that we will not reveal their name, so that we can record this history.

GROSS: Do you find that a lot of the people who have these cards passed on from family want to talk? Have you gotten into a lot of interesting conversation?

ALLEN: Oh, yes. Very much so. Sometimes -- in one case, a woman called us in tears, and we had conversations over three months before she sold us the postcard.

GROSS: What's the most you've had to pay for a postcard?

ALLEN: Well, for three small cabinet cards we actually paid -- and we hope we never have to do this again, so -- it's $30,000. If it's an image that's important, and in this case it was a very important series that just cannot be matched, we will buy them and put them in the collection. The average card, though, sells for under $1,000.

GROSS: Now, are you concerned that you're driving up the price for these things and that -- for people who -- for those people who are racist and own these cards, that you're helping to make them wealthier?

ALLEN: I have to say that everything in America is driven with the dollar, and the people who would keep these cards and glorifying them, our $1,000 is not going to do anything for the quality of their life. But that card in our collection could help change the consciousness of America.

GROSS: What are you doing to make sure that you're not furthering the kind of profit motive behind the cards?

ALLEN: That -- we're very concerned about that, and we are looking over the years, we'll find a permanent home for the collection. We do not think of this as a collectible. We discourage other people from thinking of it as a collectible because they truly are national documents that should not be bought and sold like trade cards.

GROSS: Have you been approached by any white supremacists who want these cards?

ALLEN: Well, people would love for us to sell reproductions of them. Yes, we have, for that. But we haven't found too many white supremacists that have any money, they could pay a decent price for anything. Not that we would sell them, but all we have to do is mention what they're worth, and they usually disappear very quickly.

GROSS: My guest is James Allen. His collection of lynching photographs are on exhibit at the New York Historical Society and are collected in the new book "Without Sanctuary."

More after a break. This is FRESH AIR.


GROSS: My guest, James Allen, has collected picture postcards of lynching in his new book, "Without Sanctuary."

What kinds of things were you collecting before you started collecting these lynching photographs?

ALLEN: The -- mostly African-American -- mostly what we collect are African-American objects and paper, and the objects we're most interested in, handmade items such as carved walking sticks and quilts. We even just purchased a home that was built and decorated by a man. Furniture, there's never been a study in the United States done of African-American domestic decorative arts, so we have been building up a photo and a collection of handmade furniture by African-Americans that was used by African-Americans and not for commercial use to something that was copied for whites to use.

There's a lot of history that's still unwritten about African-American life and a lot of bias in our institutions against African-American art, domestic arts, decorative arts.

GROSS: And what's your background, art, history, or...

ALLEN: No, I'm a picker.

GROSS: (laughs) Is that...

ALLEN: I had trouble making it through a day in college, and so I left, and decided to do what really enthused me and energized me, and that was to get out and find great things.

GROSS: How did you start? What were the first things you went picking for?

ALLEN: I actually started on a street corner in Atlanta, Georgia, on the corner of Clifton and Ponce de Leon, and I would go to stores out in the country and borrow their furniture and line them up along the street with signs just like the old Burma-Shave signs. (laughs) "Old chairs for sale." And then the next telephone pole I'd put, "Oak table for sale." And people would pull over and buy things from me. And so I used that to buy my first van and to get into business where I could travel the country roads and find things.

GROSS: Is your home furnished and decorated with things you've picked?

ALLEN: Johnny would tell you that our home is a warehouse and it's ever-changing, because the objects come in, and they have to sit there, and I have to live with them...

GROSS: (laughs)

ALLEN: ... and he has to live with them. I have to live with them to learn from them. But it's -- it is a warehouse. It can be pretty disturbing at times to come home and find sofas and chairs gone. There's no place to sit, or the next day there's a whole funeral parlor that's been emptied into our living room, so...

GROSS: (laughs) What's one of the prized possessions that you plan on keeping?

ALLEN: Well, we don't keep the things that are the greatest, we truly keep the things that affect us the most emotionally. One of the things that we're the proudest of, and we still haven't been able to get up because there's no room, is a set of furniture made by a man in Fernandino Beach, Florida, an African-American man that was a shop teacher and made this elaborate furniture in his own style, with free carving that was not representative of anything, but just as if he'd dug his fingers into the wood like it was clay and became a part of it.

GROSS: How have the lynching photographs that you've tracked down and collected changed you, affected you?

ALLEN: I think people are disappointed in my answer to the question of how I've been affected by the postcards and photos of this American brutality. But the deepest influence on my life has been the reality of ideas and their power to influence people's thinking and their behavior. All of this took part because of ideas that were promoted by a few, by institutions, and the people followed suit. And we as Americans need to think for ourselves, to question ourselves, where are the ideas in my head from? Are they mine, or are they someone else's who has a profit motive in controlling my behavior?

Because ideas can kill.

GROSS: Now, I want to explain that I'm in a studio in Philadelphia, and you're in a studio in New York, so we don't see each other as we're speaking. And for what it's worth, if it's of any relevance, I really don't have a clue whether you're white or African-American, and whether these photographs have affected your sense of race in America.

ALLEN: These images have greatly affected my ideas about race in America. They've made me very wary of white men and power of the majority of the potential for greed. And then they have opened me up where I can understand how African-Americans just understand the possibility that they may not vote their conscience in the jury pool, that they may look at an African-American man who's being tried and convicted by a system that they know is slanted against him and say, Somebody else has already paid for this crime.

It's made me realize that when blacks say that drugs are a conspiracy on the black community, no, I don't agree with that. But yes, I understand how they feel that way. They've made me think and put myself in the place of African-Americans and realize that as a white man in America, every white person in America has profited from this system of oppression, myself included.

GROSS: You grew up in Georgia?

ALLEN: Grew up in Winter Park, Florida, a large family, large Catholic family, 11 kids and a loving mom and dad that were very open to current events and new ways of thinking and very, very anti any form of racism. You -- we couldn't even use the word Jew in terms of a description of someone. Would have been very painful, difficult for me to even say somebody was Jewish, because I'd be so afraid of hurting their feelings.

GROSS: (inaudible) because someone would assume if you mention that they were Jewish, you were mentioning it to discriminate against them?

ALLEN: Right, exactly. I remember I had my first Jewish boss, and I sat across from him at the desk all the time thinking, I'm going to say "Jew," I'm going to say "Jew." (laughs) It's going to come out.

GROSS: Any stories that were passed on through your family about lynchings in the part of Florida where you grew up?

ALLEN: No, if I had a -- if a relevant story that I could tell about racism today, I could tell you an interesting story. One of the individuals who contacted us about racist material and photographs of lynchings, say, was a man who had a pawnshop in north Florida. And so I happened to be in Florida at the time, and he left a message on my answering machine. So at 8:00 in the morning, I drove to the town where he lived and called him from a pay phone.

And when I called him, a man I'd never met, he said to me, "Remind me to show you the pictures of the nigger I blew away myself."

GROSS: And you said...

ALLEN: I just couldn't say anything. I sat there stunned, held my breath, kept my goal in mind, and went, followed his directions to his pawnshop and purchased the items that he had for sale.

GROSS: Guess you run into a lot of that in your line of work.

ALLEN: We have.

GROSS: Yes. I thank you so much for talking with us.

ALLEN: I hope it's been helpful, Terry, and I really appreciate speaking with you.

GROSS: James Allen's collection of lynching photographs is reproduced in the new book "Without Sanctuary." The photographs are on display at the New York Historical Society.

Coming up, David Bianculli reviews the new cop series "The Beat," created by the same team as "Homicide."

This is FRESH AIR.


Dateline: Terry Gross, Philadelphia
Guest: James Allen
High: Tens of thousands of African-American men, women and children were lynched by mobs in the United States between 1882 and 1968. Some of these lynchings were photographed, and the photos were saved as souvenirs, and were even sometimes used as postcards. Antique dealer James Allen came across these disturbing images and began to collect them. His collection is currently on display at the New York Historical Society. The book about Allen's collection, called "Without Sanctuary: Lynching Photography in America," was published earlier this year.
Spec: Art; Race Relations; Violence; Murders; Minorities

Please note, this is not the final feed of record

Copy: Content and programming copyright 2000 WHYY, Inc. All rights reserved. Transcribed by FDCH, Inc. under license from WHYY, Inc. Formatting copyright 2000 FDCH, Inc. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to WHYY, Inc. This transcript may not be reproduced in whole or in part without prior written permission.
End-Story: Exhibit Features James Allen's Collection of Lynching Photographs

Date: MARCH 21, 2000
Time: 12:00
Tran: 032102NP.217
Head: David Bianculli Reviews `The Beat'
Sect: Entertainment
Time: 12:52

This is a rush transcript. This copy may not
be in its final form and may be updated.

GROSS: The production team of Barry Levinson and Tom Fontana, whose credits include "Homicide: Life on the Street" for NBC and "Oz" for HBO, unveil their new series tonight. It's called "The Beat," and it's about street cops in New York City.

TV critic David Bianculli has a review and an explanation of why the series is showing up on the UPN network.

DAVID BIANCULLI, TV CRITIC: Putting "The Beat" on UPN is a little like when NBC launched "Hill Street Blues" almost 20 years earlier. Not that "The Beat" is anywhere near as groundbreaking or outstanding as "Hill Street," it isn't. But back then, NBC was such a tacky network, with a prime-time schedule of wall-to-wall garbage, that "Hill Street" stood out like a healthy thumb. It wasn't the kind of show, however, that was easy to promote by running ads during "The A Team."

UPN right now is the home of "WWF Smackdown" and other video guano. The one good show on the network is virtually the only good show UPN has televised since it's been a network, "Star Trek: Voyager." And even that show is having a bad year creatively and has announced it's about to put an end to its weekly voyages.

So if UPN doesn't want to set up permanent residence at the bottom of the barrel, it has to establish a quality beachhead somewhere on its schedule, and fast.

Fontana and Levinson, meanwhile, always are eager to go where the creative freedom is. That's what got them to do "Oz" for HBO long before David Chase made a similar leap of faith with "The Sopranos." And now, with the promise of a firm 13-episode run and no network interference, that's what's gotten them to do "The Beat" for UPN.

That explains the marriage. Now for the bigger question, how's the honeymoon? Or, in other words, is "The Beat" worth watching? For three reasons, which I'll get to shortly, yes, it is.

The stars of "The Beat" are Derek Cecil and Mark Ruffalo, who play uniformed cops whose lives are hectic on and off the job. Cecil plays Mike, who's just popped the question to his girlfriend, played by Poppy Montgomery (ph), and Ruffalo plays Zane, who's just invited his new girlfriend, played by Heather Burns, to move in with him, even though she's clearly a dangerously unstable woman.

Like "Homicide" when it premiered, "The Beat" is shot in an attention-getting visual style. In this case, it's a jarring mixture of film and video. And while the show shifts to video for the action scenes, it also drops the filmed look at other times, so there's no real rhyme or reason to the sudden changes.

It's like the shifts from color to black and white in Lindsay Anderson's cult classic film, "If." I spent years trying to figure out the symbolism behind those changes, and it turned out Anderson ran out of money while filming the movie out of sequence and switched to black and white for the remaining scenes so he could finish the movie on budget.

The comparison isn't that much of a stretch, because Fontana already is on record as saying that the video scenes save a lot of money, which, for a series on the sixth-rated network, is a definite consideration.

The look of the show, though, is not one of the reasons to watch "The Beat." The reasons are, one, Heather Burns's strong work as the wacky girlfriend; two, to support UPN in its uncharacteristic experiment with quality television; and three, because Fontana and Levinson are employing many familiar faces from their other series as guest stars, like this sudden drop-in from next week's show, who pops up while Mike and Zane are standing over a dead body at a domestic murder scene.


RICHARD BELZER, ACTOR: Detective John Munch. Got a homicide here?

ACTOR: You tell us.

BELZER: All right. Ouch! Definite head trauma. Find any blunt instruments lying around?

ACTOR: Nothing in plain sight, no.

BELZER: Who called it in?

ACTOR: Lady that lives upstairs. She said she came over to borrow a cup of something. The door was ajar, she walked in and found Agnes Vidal, divorced, lived alone.

BELZER: Divorced, huh? Ex-husbands make great murder suspects. Looks like she caught the corner of the table on the way down. Who's the M.E.?

ACTOR: M.E.? Oh, they probably got stuck in traffic.

BELZER: New York. Well, have fun, boys.

ACTOR: Aren't you the primary?

BELZER: No, heard it on the squeek box, thought I'd stop by and take a look for old time's sake. I'm nostalgic for a good homicide. I got to tell you, this looks like a garden variety domestic accident to me.

ACTOR: You're not a homicide detective.

BELZER: Special Victims Unit, but I was murder police for 20 years. Once a murder police, always a murder police.

ACTOR: Murder police? Where do they say "murder police"?

BELZER: Baltimore. Charm City. Tiny town.

ACTOR: This is New York.

BELZER: You're telling me. See you around, guys.


BIANCULLI: If you're a "Homicide" fan and can catch Richard Belzer in a surprise appearance like that, then "The Beat" can't be beat.

GROSS: David Bianculli is TV critic for "The New York Daily News."

FRESH AIR's senior producer today was Joan Toohey Wesman. Our interviews and reviews are produced by Phyllis Myers, Naomi Person, and Amy Salit, with Monique Nazareth, Ann Marie Baldonado, and Patty Leswing, research assistance from Brendan Noonam. Sue Spolen (ph) directed the show.

I'm Terry Gross.

Dateline: Terry Gross, Philadelphia, David Bianculli
High: TV critic David Bianculli reviews "The Beat," the new cop drama by the Tom Fontana/Barry Levinson team that also created the series "Homicide." The new show premieres on the UPN network tonight.
Spec: Entertainment; Television and Radio; Police

Please note, this is not the final feed of record
Copy: Content and programming copyright 2000 WHYY, Inc. All rights reserved. Transcribed by FDCH, Inc. under license from WHYY, Inc. Formatting copyright 2000 FDCH, Inc. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to WHYY, Inc. This transcript may not be reproduced in whole or in part without prior written permission.
End-Story: David Bianculli Reviews `The Beat'
Transcripts are created on a rush deadline, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of Fresh Air interviews and reviews are the audio recordings of each segment.

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