The artist Frank Cieciorka worked as a voter registration volunteer in Holly Springs, Mississippi in the summer in 1964 and for the next year as a SNCC field secretary in both Mississippi & Arkansas. His drawings were used in SNCC's newsletter, The Student Voice, and the Bay Area Friends of SNCC's newspaper, The Movement. The Civil Rights Movement Archive includes some of these images.
One of Cieciorka's most disturbing pieces, which we refer to as, "The Rape of Liberty," resonates for many of us depicting, as it does in symbolic form, the ugliness and horror of racist white violence as well as the hypocrisy of a nation that claims equality and freedom for all — while continuing to oppress and kill people of color.
However, a middle school teacher who uses the website with his students contacted the Archives asking if it would be possible to remove this image from Cieciorka's drawings on the Freedom Movement in Art page, saying it wasn't appropriate for his students given their age.
This request stimulated a healthy discussion about censorship, the Archives's audience and what might or might not be appropriate for young students. When we first began the website, the audience was ourselves — veterans of the Southern Freedom Movement. Today, however, the majority of people using the website are students of various ages.
While we believe that this image is appropriate for older students and researchers, we have had to look at the question of whether it detracts from, or could limit the use of, the Archives by middle school and elementary school teachers. We understand that even very young people may know about violence personally or via the news and internet. However, we think that an upsetting image like the Rape of Liberty needs context.
So rather than removing the image from the website, we separated it from Cieciorka's other artwork and placeed it here, among the discussions. Doing so reflects our commitment to encourage people, and especially students, to learn about the racist violence this image refers to.
Because Cieciorka used a sexually explicit image to symbolize the white supremacist violence, we want to suggest a few sources for teachers regarding racist violence against Black women. Historically white men raped Black women without fear of either the legal or social consequences. Indeed, many times it was the sheriffs, deputies, and other law enforcement who perpetrated the rape.
We suggest readers look at Our Mississippi Dilemma by Miriam Glickman about a family she stayed with in Mississippi as one example:Of all the families that I lived with in the South, I remember this one the best. I lived with a mother and father and their five children. The mom was the one who had to try to protect their 12 year old daughter when the police stopped their car and ordered the daughter out. I remember her saying she told the police, "She's only 12!" It was clear it was too dangerous for the father to say anything.
What is significant about this story is that while the family may not have had the power to stop the rape on their own, with the mother having to beg the sheriff to let the daughter be, they joined the freedom struggle. They did not stay isolated, fearful and alone. Housing a civil rights worker put them in jeopardy, but also made them part of something larger than themselves that could and did make positive change for Black people in the South.
Another reference for students might be Mrs. Fannie Lou Hamer, who along with a number of young Black women, was arrested in Winona, Mississippi. She was viciously beaten in the jail, her skirt pulled up to give more access to her legs. She had already joined the Freedom Movement, having been thrown off the plantation where she worked for trying to register to vote. This violence against her body did not subdue her. Rather she used the story of her beating to rally others to the cause, insisting on the importance of standing up and joining with people who treated her as a human being.
Because it is historically inaccurate to give students the idea that only white males perpetrated violence against Black people, Endesha Ida Mae Holland's story of being raped at age 12 (on her birthday) by the husband of the white woman for whom she did housework is another good source. The woman took the young girl up to the bedroom, opened the door and pushed the girl in, telling her to do what the white man wanted. Yet in this instance as in the other two example, Endesha joined the Freedom Movement. The film, Freedom On My Mind, includes her telling this story as well as how the Freedom Movement changed her life.
Chude Pam Allen
Civil Rights Movement Archive
Bay Area Veterans of the Civil Rights Movement
February 8, 2023
Request from [Name Withheld]
A middle-school teacher from a Pittsburgh PA suburb.
I love using your website for teaching history with my middle school art class. It is full of high quality archival imagery, and I can't thank you enough for putting it together.
I have a tough question to ask... On the bottom of your Art page you have an image by Frank Cieciorka depicting a large man with a confederate tattoo raping lady liberty who is being held by a hooded Klansman.[Since removed and now included at the top of this discussion.]
I completely understand why this image is appropriate to the discussion at large, but it makes it difficult to use your website for a middle school audience who should be viewing everything else I've found on here ...
Is it possible to remove just this one image? I don't think it would take anything away and I understand in this day of censoring and erasure this is a strange question to ask... but from an educational standpoint I think it is worth the ask.
I hope this email finds you and your loved ones well and regardless of the outcome I plan on using much from here, but it would be ideal to just let them use full access to your website rather than me picking and choosing...
Warm regards and in solidarity onward!"Re-examine all you have been told at school or church or in any book, dismiss whatever insults your own soul, and your very flesh shall be a great poem." — Walt Whitman
CORE/SCLC veteran, CRMA Archive
Thank you for reaching out. No one has ever raised this question to us before.
I still remember that specific image from back in the day because it so vividly expressed my rage, anguish, and despair over the enormous chasm between the noble public-school claims of American democracy, freedom, and justice that I had been taught in my classrooms, and the racist realities of life in America for nonwhites that I later discovered.
Personally, I believe that schools should be physically and emotionally safe and secure spaces for children to learn and grow. But for me that does not mean that classrooms have to be 100% comfortable spaces at ALL times and in ALL contexts.
Some discomfort is inherent in truth and accuracy. I do not believe that children can be effectively prepared for their adult futures by concealing from them unpleasant realities. As I experienced it, and as I look back on it now, my 1950s public school education was a massive propaganda construct that in the final analysis failed me as a human being and as a citizen.
I believe that the real goal of today's censorship and erasure campaigns is not to protect children in general, but rather to conceal and distort for white children the realities faced by, and endured by, their nonwhite classmates. But doing so invalidates the lived-experiences of nonwhite students. Which means that protecting white children from even the slightest discomfort requires denying nonwhite students acknowledgement that the contradictions they experience in their lives between American aspirations and American realities are valid — which creates for them great discomfort. For me, that beautiful Whitman quote in your signature block reinforces my opinion.
After the video recording of George Floyd's 2020 murder by police in Minneapolis was made publicly available, a huge outpouring of massive protests erupted across the nation. Despite a raging pandemic, more than a million people demonstrated against racially-motivated police violence in what became the largest protest wave in American history. White men, women, and children made up the majority of those participating — and most of them were young, under the age of 30. Right-wing Republicans and white supremacists where aghast and furious. So much so that it may well be that they view the accurate teaching of Black history and the role of racism in American society as a long-term threat to their divide-and-conquer political power.
The paragraphs above, however, express my personal views, not necessarily those of the broader Freedom Movement veteran community. So I'm going circulate your request to our group of a dozen or so for a broader discussion (without identifying you or your school). It may be that mine is a minority position, or it may be that folk see a difference between high school audiences and middle or elementary level classes.
Thank you for provoking what I suspect will turn out to be a lively and interesting discussion.
Response from middle-school teacher:
Thanks for the quick reply, Bruce!
Although I agree 100% with everything you wrote and had watered down white bread soup fed to me for my entire public education, I have 13 and 14-year-old students in my class...
I'm excited to hear back from you and appreciate your time and efforts towards this query!
Fatima Cortez Todd
CORE veteran, Bay Area Veterans of the Civil Rights Movement
While I find that drawing 1) Disgusting 2) inappropriate for elementary school age 3) too graphic for my walls, I totally support it staying right where it is. Everything that is included in 1,2,3 is the reality that people of color have to endure on a daily basis. Bold imagery everywhere is as important as our reaction to some of Banksy's pop ups. All of our children are confronted with images and situations that do not reflect the best of humanity. They are witnesses to homelessness outside and TV news inside. Let's not overlook all the video games filled with violence, greed, women as victims, et al. Also in their own homes.
So my bottom line response to a well meaning -ism filled liberal (white?) female? Go find someplace else to make real changes to the reality reflected in this crass drawing. It makes no apology to the truth of the matter.
I have to stop now because I am getting pissed. I support [Bruce's] response and trust everyone else will support it, too.
I think it important to support the validation of any protest artists prospective and not put it in hiding (just like the topic) as if we cannot bear facing a harsh reality.
As a survivor of child sexual assault (age 12), I was not triggered in any way other than YES that's a powerful drawing and factual in the imagery. Rape has been considered a forbidden (secret) topic while not condemned in all its manifestations. So I celebrate it being put out there. Those of us activists in the Civil Rights Movement who evolved into other issues, for me the women of color against violence put it out there to eradicate hiding from reality. This work being included with the artist's other work is respect.
MFDP Volunteer, Bay Area Friends of SNCC, Bay Area Veteran of the Civil Rights Movement
Thanks for sending this to us. I decided to send the teachers request, not your response, on to my daughter, Sarah, who is the main librarian at [Name Withheld] High School. She emailed back:My first reaction is that it is not an appropriate request and she can censor on her own for her students. My second reaction is that if she is doing good work with the site it could make sense to create something in collaboration that would be a worthwhile project for both groups. That results in some middle school curriculum development that would be useful to the vets when working with younger students.
I did explain to Sarah that it was unlikely that we would get involved in such curriculum or site development. She felt that suggesting to teachers that developing curriculum for their students that was then shared with the site could be useful in getting more use of the site.
I did tell her something of your take about the "campaigns of erasure and censorship are not to protect children but rather to conceal and distort for white children the realities faced by, and endured by, their nonwhite classmates." She asked how you know that her students are "White".
I also would not censor the site in the way suggested. There are so many images and writings that people could find difficult to see or read. Hopefully there are teachers and others who can deal with those issues. The impact of everything that is presented is integral to the power and importance of the site.
I would want to know who the teacher is protecting and not make the assumption that it is only the "white" students as you presume in the "I believe...." paragraph.
Response by Bruce Hartford to Gene & Sarah:
Public data shows that the teacher's school district is in a predominantly white suburb adjacent to Pittsburgh PA.
SNCC veteran, SNCC Legacy Project (SLP)
The violence and obscenity to which the teacher objects is also in another [image] portraying the beating of Black person.
I do not want to get caught up in the discussion of censorship in America today.
I do think we need to determine what is fit for showing or censorship. If we think violence and obscenity should not be shown then we will not be able to portray the history of exploitation in this country.
SNCC veteran, SNCC Legacy Project (SLP), retired PBS executive
Ah, Bruce, the questions and dilemmas! I'm glad this teacher has alerted us.
I hadn't seen this work before. Unfortunately, I fear this leaves us quite vulnerable to attacks that will make it very difficult to get the site into schools and become easy fodder against the larger efforts at education.
But, I await the thoughts of those with far more experience in the educational arena, particularly those that deal frequently with middle schools, libraries and high schools. I don't think it an issue of censorship; it is more a question of appropriateness for the audience we seek to reach, in my view.
SNCC Legacy Project, college professor
Hmmm, Bruce, I have to think about this one.
If it were high school, I'd have an unequivocal answer: show 'em everything!
I'm wrestling right now with how I prep my 19 and 20 year old students for the horrible racist images of the 17th to early 20th century which are essential to my class on "Development's Visual Imaginaries: Still and Moving Images that Shaped the Field." I've taught the class three times before. But the ambiance for teaching hard truths has gotten considerably more threatening to profs. Of course many of us still do it!
But I have had to develop a pre-seminar spiel on why knowing about, looking at, and together interpreting these visual narratives is indispensable for those who intend to live and work in society — not just as activists but as things like, well, teachers and artists and plumbers and economists. I tell them they can choose not to look, but that they will probably regret that.
I also tell them sometimes: Toughen up. Life is hard. Think about the people who suffered what you are squeamish about looking at!
But like I said, these are not 11 year olds. Much depends on the teacher knowing the students well, developing a pre-explanation, and delivering that before they ever see anything. Then paying attention to their reactions. Letting them know they are free to express disturbance and distaste, and to ask some "why" questions that the instructor has to be prepared to answer.
But then again, for younger kids the real problem is not them but rather their parents! They find out secondhand about what was seen and go ballistic.
I didn't answer your question, Bruce, did I?
SNCC veteran, SNCC Legacy Project, documentarian
This is a really interesting discussion. Been thinking about it since Bruce sent his email.
I have some thoughts to add, but want to think about it overnight. My concern is partly related to whether you censor for middle school students and thereby deny older students/general audience the power of this image (albeit an artistic rendering and not an actual rape).
I started thinking about a particularly horrible image brought forth by the description of a beating (of his aunt) included in Frederick Douglass' first autobiography and how this teacher would deal with it.
But.. like I said: let me think about this overnight so my reply is more thoughtful.
February 9, 2023
Judy Richardson, continued:
Bruce - your reply was really good! I agree with all you wrote. A few other points:
- You're right that a middle school audience is different from high school and up. In fact, when we conduct PD workshops for teachers, we always stress that it is the teacher who has to decide what is appropriate. However, it doesn't restrict the content of the session. Middle school teachers — like elementary teachers — are constantly learning material that is not always appropriate for their grade level. So, they listen/look, but with a necessary filter — a filter the teacher provides.
I agree with Jennifer that this isn't about censorship; it's about what's appropriate for a grade level. I learned this early on when I began conducting teacher workshops for Eyes on the Prize, back in 1990. Teachers would often talk about how they would have to interpret a particular concept — or not use a particular section of the film — with their younger students. This is what teachers do all the time. And it always helps if there's at least one other teacher of the same grade level in the session so that they can learn from one other.
- I understand that a graphic image is often more powerful than text. So, this teacher might not have a problem with the savage (and continual) beating of Douglass' aunt that he recounts in his first Narrative (the one I mentioned in my email last night). But, as Cox noted, there are a couple of other images on your site that are also graphic (including one, I noticed, by Charles Wright, though not as graphic as Cieciorka's "Rape of Justice" drawing).
- Bottom line: I don't think you should restrict the content of your site based on whether it's appropriate for a particular grade level. Teachers know their students best and are amazing at judging this. You obviously have other criteria for what's appropriate and what fits into your guidelines, but I don't think this should be one of those criteria.
I'm sure others will have opinions on this. Just wanted to get this out while I could.
SNCC veteran, SNCC Legacy Project
This image can be a trigger-event for Rape victims. A warning is appropriate especially now that we know more about the after-effects of such trauma on sexual assault victims.
Remove it from the Art page, but in the section of Frank's work include a separate link to it with some kind of appropriate disclaimer/warning so that visitors would have to click on the link to see the image.
Former public school teacher & librarian
I am trying to separate resources in schools from resources in archives.
"Our purpose is to make sure that there is a place where the Movement story is told by those who actually lived it." [About the CRMA]
As an archive, you will have things that many people think are not appropriate for students ages X-Y.
And those will all be different.
Life and history are not sanitized.
That said, my opinion is just mine, but I don't see that piece being useful or used in middle school or high school classes.
The artist/vet is represented multiple times in the archive with other art.
In the Primer for Freedom Schools, it was not included whether because of the audience, or it not being done yet I don't know.
I see more harm than good with keeping that particular piece, and I am aware of conflicting issues with censoring the archive.
I would consider it a matter of curation and selection, based on the mission of vets telling their own stories and this being more of a newspaper editorial cartoon (not sure of original context.)
- A disclaimer on each page could alert users to the possible presence of mature content. (I still do not like the image of rape.)
- The sections for teachers already have suggested ways to use the content. Maybe setting 13 year olds loose on a site is not the best use of these resources.
- Teachers could be encouraged to copy and paste images into a lesson plan with appropriate credit and use info.
- They would be the filter, as they are for everything they present to students.
February 12, 2023
Miriam Cohen Glickman
SNCC veteran, Bay Area Veterans of the Civil Rights Movement, mathematics teacher
Oh goodness, take it down. So inappropriate for middle school students!
SNCC veteran, author & historian
I say remove the image. I think the narrative can go a long way in conveying the message and facilitating a related discussion.
February 13, 2023
Teaching for Change
Yesterday I wrote to three teachers educators with the question about the cartoon on the CRMvet site in light of the email you received from a middle school teacher.
As I noted in a separate email to you (Bruce), that image would be flagged in an effort to block access to the CRMA site by rightwingers in many states these days where they are using the excuse of sexual content, nudity, etc to ban books — with even that ridiculous firing of the Mississippi administrator who read the playful picture book, "I Need a New Butt." But it would not be just that image at CRMvet.org.
Teacher Educator, Kalamazoo, Michigan (connection via Teaching for Change)
Thank you for giving me the opportunity to think with this image and context.
I spent a good deal of the evening going down a rabbit hole learning about Frank Cieciorka and his work in the Freedom Summer and the larger connections through the freedom struggle. Wow. I learned so much.
I tried to learn about the picture's origin and the context of the website. What I took away was much greater. In a few short hours of digging, I was able to use sources from their website, and google searches to access connections between that image, the lynchings of the Mississippi Freedom Summer volunteers, the Black Power salute at the 68' Olympics, the Black Panthers, and ongoing freedom movements today. (I'm at my mom's for a mini vacation, and I shared the "ah-has" and connections with her, and my middle school son as I learned. And my goodness, the opportunity to learn from this image and site won't stop here.)
So, in answer to your question — I think the image is terribly important, while traumatic. Feel welcome to cut out any of this background information that doesn't work for you — but I wanted to document the process I went through for any other teacher who might wish to learn from the image, and the history surrounding it. Clearly, my thinking isn't polished, but hopefully will resonate with someone along the way.
First: CRMA and Bruce H. Thank you for sharing your incredible experiences, your connections to the movements and people, and the sources for others to learn. I was able to read about the history of the site, and the purpose behind it. Your resources and the related articles are so rich and personal, I've never been to a site that was curated by people who both lived the history and are still speaking through it actively. It speaks to your continued lasting impacts. Thank you. I will continue to learn, and share the work you've documented with my students and peers.
I learned about the site: I saw CRMA is considered an "archive" that presents a "non-commercial" view of history "up from below and from the inside out." The details on the site share that the work would be in service of defiance in efforts to "overthrow a century of systemic racial oppression and exploitation." The materials are sourced from the freedom movement makers themselves "All of the substantive materials in our archive were (and are) written or created by the people who themselves actively participated in the civil rights movement."
The image in question then, was likely given to the site for use by Mr. C. As I cannot locate any information on the image beyond the website, it's also extremely rare, so it seems, making this possibly the only place to view it.
The image which shows the white man with a Confederate flag raping Lady Justice, while being held by a member of the Klan is jarring, and certainly disturbing. But it was supposed to be. As Bruce described in his response to the teacher "It vividly expressed my rage, anguish, and despair..." and for so many others as well.
The image was likely created between the years of 1964 and 1966, when Frank Cieciorka was working as a field secretary for the Freedom Summer in Mississippi. Just days before he was sent to Mississippi to recruit voters, and work as a driver to bring voters to the polls, colleagues in the Freedom Movement were sent south to begin recruiting there they were jailed, released, and hunted down by a Klan mob and murdered before being buried in shallow graves. Justice was never served for the folks who committed the crimes, as many escaped jail time, and those who admitted their work in the horror only served 6 years — and that was only a few of them. They came out recounting how they were proud of their terror.
The murder was horrifying, and there are a lot of accounts of the aftermath — one of which I found described as "The first interracial lynching in the history of the united states." On the CRMA site, I found an article written after the event — The Valley of Fear by David Welsh — which described the event:"Mississippians of both races express doubt that these murders, or any of the others will ever be solved. Their opinion has solid historical substance. Race murder without impunity is no recent phenomenon."
Mr. Walsh goes on to describe how the methods of terror were never abandoned, "only the forms have changed." So, if we remove the image, then do we remove the discomfort for folks having to look at the miscarriage of justice that was done?
So, the image's creation was likely in response to the murders, and the lack of action that followed. Mr. Cierciorka was IN the movement, at that moment, and himself in harm's way. He was responding to the white terror and violence and making his image disturbing — which it should be in representation of the lack of justice, the lack o accountability, and the continued fear that traveled with it.
I learned a great deal about Mr. C from this site, and thought about his context in the Freedom movement, and how that positioned this art as truthful, and important.
I do wonder. Does the image have a date? A name? Most of the other images Mr. C made were documented elsewhere on the interwebs — but not this one. I can find a lot of responses to his work in archives and for sale online, but not any of this.
The image makes my stomach hurt, and is not something that is easy. BUT, I want my children and my students to know the TRUTH of the histories, not just the easy parts. The image — when I showed it to my 13-year-old and asked if he could see using this in class, he said that he thought they could discuss it in school. The website states that it's for students, and researchers, and teachers, and folks in the movement, so the image belongs as a part of the narrative.
I might recommend that it be included in more context of Mr. Cieciorka's work writ large, so while difficult, necessary. If there is any other info on the creation of the image — the timeline, how the site got it, etc, I think that could be incredibly impactful in a conversation about the violence in the images.
Separately, this is a cartoon that makes representation of white violence — I think about the images that are shown around the same time — and the discussions we have about murders, war, and violence around the world in global studies. We likely show lynching and murder, or show other images of violence that are far more graphic. But we don't want to look at the horror in our own backyard — and I think the discomfort could be because it is all white folks in the image as well. It calls on our responsibility as a method of interruption. We have to do something, not just watch as justice is violated.
After looking into the ways that Frank C's work inspired the movement at large, I would recommend keeping it. If you wanted to add a warning on it, fine, but if a few hours of reading/research inspired by the image can change my perspective of one person's impact on the freedom struggle, and the interconnections between labor movements, Black Power, the CRM, and more, then, it's a super worthwhile challenge.
Also, Frank's discussion of his mental break, and the changes that were necessary leading to his later arts career are indication this work is life altering, and the discomfort in the image's creation and the events leading up to it far exceed our discomfort in looking at it, explaining it's meaning to children, etc.
By middle school, my son has seen images of all sorts of violence, but to be thoughtfully challenged to interpret this image together, took us on a really important journey.
Thank you again for the opportunity to learn from this discussion, and CRMvets.
Bruce Hartford response to Brianne's question:
Thank you so much for your very thoughtful and helpful response to our request for comments.
Regarding the source of Frank's "Rape of Liberty" image — which is my title, so far as I know he did not title his drawings — I don't recall when he drew it or how I ended up with a copy. In 1968-70, Frank and I were both members of a group of former student activists living in 'Frisco. He and I were next door neighbors. It's possible he gave me the copy I have, or it's possible that he sent it to me after he moved up to Humboldt County. I have a vague recollection that at some point in the period 1967-1970 it was published in one of the radical "alternative" weekly newspapers that were so common in the Bay Area at that time. Perhaps the Berkeley Barb or S.F. Express. And/or it's also possible that we published or distributed it in some form during the San Francisco State College (now University) student strike for Third World Studies 1968-1969.
Thanks again for your response (and thanks also for your kind words about our website).
Teacher Educator, Springfield, Mass. (connection via Teaching for Change)
I see the perspective of the teacher and Bruce. The image is shocking and my first thoughts were about sexual assault survivors and their response to the image. Rape has been/is used as a weapon of warfare and tool of in the ongoing subjugation of women. To me the image goes beyond censorship or making White children uncomfortable. Girls and women of all ages and races could be triggered by the image making it uniquely different from the other images. The image being in the museum is one thing, but being present on the website with the other images presents it out of context and to me takes away from the other images.
Teacher Educator, Austin, Texas (connection via Teaching for Change)
I completely understand the point that the artist is making. It is an upsetting visual that makes a strong argument, and highlights a very real reality. It also feels a little misplaced among the other images on the page, such as colorful murals.
When I taught fifth grade, my students explored a lot of really hard history, and I didn't shield the truth from them. For example, we spent quite a bit of time learning about the lynching of Emmett Till. They learned about his life and his murder, and the activism of his murder in response. They also learned about the realities of life in the south and they learned vocabulary words like "lynching."
However, I was very clear with my students that we were not going to look at images of his body after his murder. My students were ten and eleven years old, and there was a lot of learning we could do about Emmett Till without looking at photos that may be very traumatic.
Additionally, looking at photos can sometimes lead young children to overly focus on the shock value of these images, rather than deeply engaging with the content. My choice to exclude certain images was not an act of protecting white children, rather, it was honoring what was developmentally appropriate for students of this age.
Similarly, when we learned about the Holocaust, we did a lot of work using the Anti Defamation League's Pyramid of Hate. This framework helps students learn how seemingly "small" actions of individual and structural bias can lead to greater actions and eventually genocide.
A key part of this violence is rape. However, I removed the word rape from the graphic when I used the framework with fifth graders. My students were better able to interact with the framework without the discussion of sexual violence. We had not yet had "the sex talk" at school, and I had no idea what students knew from their families. Additionally, I knew that I had at least one student in my class who had experienced sexual violence. It was not developmentally appropriate or trauma-informed to bring rape into the conversation at this point, and they were better able to interact with the content of the lesson without the inclusion of the word.
When I used the Pyramid of Hate framework with eighth graders to teach about enslavement, however, I did not remove sexual violence from the conversation, and we discussed the violence of enslavers perpetrated against enslaved Black women. My students needed the inclusion of sexual violence to get a more full picture of what life was like for enslaved people, and particularly the experiences of enslaved women.
One of the images that we used to discuss this reality is Behind the Myth of Benevolence, by Titus Kaphar. This painting highlights the reality of rape during enslavement through a powerful image of Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings, and has the potential to spark very deep conversations in which students can engage on a level that they ready for.
While I purposefully included the topic of sexual violence and used this painting for a very scaffolded conversation, I would not have used an image that directly shows a woman being raped.
I think an image that violently depicts the act of rape could have been triggering for some students, and for other students, the shock value would have detracted from the content of the lesson. I think that the painting "Behind the Myth of Benevolence" provides an example of artwork that can reveal the realities of sexual violence while also being trauma informed.
In regards to these points, I would not look at the image in question with students younger than high school, and I would not ask high schoolers to engage with it on their own. I think this image requires a lot of deep analysis, conversation, and guidance from a well prepared teacher.
I understand not wanting to remove the image completely, but I would advise moving it to a section of the website that would prevent young students from stumbling upon it. The page it is currently provides so many incredible resources, and other than this image, would be a great link to provide students with to do their own independent research. With this image, though, I would not give the link to students to explore on their own. I think that stumbling upon this image would be traumatic for many students, and could lead other students to focusing on the shock value of the image instead of the content of the lesson.
I don't believe this is a protectionist stance, I think it is more about being trauma informed and developmentally appropriate. Additionally, I think that when we curate sources, we are always making choices about what to include and what to exclude. There are a number of images that are not included on this page, so I think making the purposeful choice to remove an image is not hiding the truth, it is just making a reflective pedagogical choice.
February 17, 2023
Delta Ministry veteran, Bay Area Veterans of the Civil Rights Movement
This was discussed between myself and Orlon (who is 40-something & transgender).
So much to ponder on "rape of liberty" cartoon. By no means is this the end of discussion either!
~ WHO is the audience? Age appropriate? Might this re-trigger personal traumas in students, in women, in men, in queer community? Is the speaker or teacher ready to take this on? For school districts: I encountered word-restrictions, such as some words are not allowed or are to be used carefully, like "suicide, and the N-word. What about the cartoon?
- WHEN is this appropriate? At the time/era this cartoon came out, was it appropriate for the public then vs. now? I think today we have more awareness of violence against women than back in the 1960's and '70s; even so, the cartoon sends a bold message, it is still powerful and it's a lot to look at. Speaking to societal violence in that time period as the cartoon — it can be a valuable lesson. But not easy.
- WHAT is the message we want to convey via this cartoon? Does it reflect — or does it deflect from CRM goal & objective? IE, how does the visual display of sex and rape relate to what we do here in the website? Can we speak of horror and violence and not have the participants be "disoriented" because of the negative sexual display? Yes, anything's possible and yes, it's also challenging for anyone to take this on.
- HOW do we remain inclusive for anyone browsing the website who sees the cartoon? I tend to go towards the warning/disclaimer version (as in movies: PG and XX-rated) and move it elsewhere.
April 1, 2023
Penny Patch, SNCC 1962-1965
Gene, Bruce, Judy, Deborah, Miriam, Maria and everyone else who has been thinking about this:
Gene Turitz shared the story of the discussion about how to handle the Rape of Liberty image with me and some other friends yesterday. And I went and read the fascinating discussion. Somewhere in there Bruce said he did not remember where he got it from. It came from me, a few years ago. I found it, along with one other Cieciorka piece of art (a young person inscribing messages on the wall of his jail cell I believe) in my files. I have no idea how I happened to have them. When I mailed them to Bruce (paper copies) I think I said I wasn't sure what he would want to do with this one very disturbing piece of art. The discussion you all have had certainly covers all the issues.
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