Ashes to Ashes

Whitaker, Shirley Ann.
Ashes to Ashes: A Homegoing Celebration for the Unburied.
Connecticut River Valley: SAW Press, 2018. (BRF0274)

A broadside is included with the book inside a slipcase and contains a list of names of victims of lynching. It is titled, “As long as you speak my name I will live forever.” The list of names is embossed over the image of a tree. The book and the broadside are numbered 25/50. Shirley Ann Whitaker created the image. Michael Kuch assisted with the design of the broadside and printed the intaglio edition. The list of names was compiled by Amy Bailey, Stewart Tolnay and E.M. Beck.

In 2016 at an inaugural celebration at St. John’s Congregational Church in Springfield, Massachusetts, creator Dr. Shirley Jackson Whitaker led a service for nearly 4,000 African American souls who met their death due to racially motivated lynchings and other acts of brutalization. Dr. Whitaker’s event featured a cortege, led by two draft horses pulling a glass hearse containing a pine coffin. The church was particularly appropriate given that it is named for the abolitionist John Brown, and both Sojourner Truth and Frederick Douglass spoke there.

Ashes to Ashes are the final words spoken at African American funeral services. This book includes six copperplate portraits created by Dr. Whitaker. Whitaker was taught the process of etching by renowned printmaker Leonard Baskin (1922–2000). These portraits complement six documented stories of lynchings dramatized to represent the souls lost. The exhibited image is of Mary Hattie Graham, aka Mary Turner, who was slain at 21 while eight months pregnant. Both Mary and her unborn child died in Georgia in 1918. The portrait portrays the unflinching gaze of the represented victim, her head wrapped in a scarf. The horror of both Mary and her husband being killed, Mary having been set on fire and the child cut from her and stomped to death, is difficult to comprehend and the gaze is challenging and unrelenting.

Shirley Ann Whitaker, a kidney specialist, artist, and activist, created the Ashes to Ashes program, book, and film. She had an early love of art and uses her art and her parents’ teachings of loving and caring of others in her life’s work. The Ashes to Ashes program remembers the 3,999 victims of documented lynchings in America from 1877 to 1950.

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Ashes to Ashes