The past is never dead. It's not even past. - William Faulkner
This work originates from singular student essay from a class I taught at a community college. For the next two years, I took photographs of her community of "Dixie" (part of Dothan Alabama) and witnessed first-hand what Harvard University's Center for Government Ethics labels one of the country's most corrupt judicial systems. It was in part funded by a grant and fellowship from the Highlander Education and Research Center.
In 1924, W. E. B. Dubois wrote, “The problem of the 20th century will be the problem of the color line".
My belief is the physical form the actual architecture and design of our communities reinforces racism, the lack of "civic equality" as DuBois termed is documented by figure-ground drawings and photographs of how public space across south Alabama is used. When a community is forcibly segregated and the civic spaces anchored by confederate monuments of one race the color line Dubois described as "invisible" is revealed. The resultant culture that forms in this setting is specifically resistant to change or acceptance of those different.
History for one side of this line is alive, documented and memorilized when on the other side its hidden, forgotten and non-existent. In one interview, a man admits to being part of a post world war two lynching where a minister was decapitated, his head put on a pole beside the road to terrorize the black community. I then met with his family member searching for the truth of what happened to their grandfather. A whole history of lynchings from the late 40's and early 50's emerges that were never publicized.
Photographs of inmates in county jails deprived of food - to pressure them to make plea deals to crimes they often did not commit. Photographs of men withheld food as a weapon of the court bear witness to the depravity of the judicial and prison system of Alabama. Documents shared by men of good will that prove what is being denied presented. All of this turned over to the U.S. Dept of Justice's Civil Rights Division which initiated an investigation.
During the course of the project stories like Kharon Davis' were shared with journalist Serge Kovolawski at the New York Times to force the state to give him a trial after being held ten years mostly in solitary confinement.
Multiple lawsuits were filed against me in Alabama courts to stop this project and prevent the public from viewing the photographs. I refused to not publish photographs of documents from police departments and take down video interviews of former police officers or reveal their identity. My response was take a photograph of the constituion and mail it to them (note I do not recommend this as a way to respond to a lawsuit). I ultimately refused to reveal my sources even it meant jail. After two years of litigation as of the end of 2018, I prevailed, all being dismissed with prejudice or settled in my favor. Some apologized. I hold no grudge against these people, as a white southerner I understand it is difficult to admit the culture you are proud of can enable so much evil and perpetuate racism. The South is both beautiful and horrific at the same time but in acceptance of this there is strength.
Dr. Martin Luther King's and William Faulkner's words ring true, "He who passively accepts evil is as much involved in it as he who helps to perpetuate it. He who accepts evil without protesting against it is cooperating with it." "In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends." "The past is never dead. It's not even past".
Interview with Kharon's mother.
Serge Kovolawski's Articles in the New York Times:
Sept. 17th 2017, Justice Delayed: 10 Years in Jail, but Still Awaiting Trial
Sept. 22th 2017, Alabama Man Who Waited 10 Years for Trial Is Found Guilty
April 6th 2019, Alabama's Cruel and Unusual Prisons
The Southern Center for Human Rights effort to stop food deprivation:
Oct. 18th 2017, The Southern Center for Human Right's letter to Alabama U.S. Attorneys
Jan. 12th 2018, The Southern Center for Human Right's lawsuit filed against 49 Alabama Sheriffs
The Department of Justice's Investigation
April 2, 2019, The United States Department of Justice Civil Rights Division Investigation's Report