Hutchins Center: "Beyond the Rope" Reading and Q&A with Karlos Hill


Tuesday, October 11, 2016, 7:00pm


Harvard Coop Bookstore, 1400 Massachusetts Avenue, Cambridge, MA

Dr. Karlos K. Hill is Associate Professor of African and African American Studies at the University of Oklahoma and Founding Director of the Distinguished African American History Month Lecture Series at the university. Dr. Hill specializes in the history of lynching and the antilynching movement in America. His core research aim is to uncover the various ways in which racial violence has been central to the black experience in America. Additionally, Dr. Hill’s research explores how black Americans have resisted racial violence and how black resistance has changed over time. Dr. Hill is a frequent commentator on issues of race, equity, and social justice. He has been quoted in the USA Today, Newswise, the Dallas Morning News, Texas Public Radio, and numerous times in local and regional news outlets. His weekly podcast Tapestry: A Conversation About Race and Culture has a global following.

Beyond the Rope is an interdisciplinary study that draws on narrative theory and cultural studies methodologies to trace African Americans' changing attitudes and relationships to lynching over the twentieth century. Whereas African Americans are typically framed as victims of white lynch mob violence in both scholarly and public discourses, Karlos K. Hill reveals that in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries African Americans lynched other African Americans in response to alleged criminality, and that twentieth-century black writers envisaged African American lynch victims as exemplars of heroic manhood. By illuminating the submerged histories of black vigilantism and consolidating narratives of lynching in African American literature that framed black victims of white lynch mob violence as heroic, Hill argues that rather than being static and one dimensional, African American attitudes towards lynching and the lynched black evolved in response to changing social and political contexts.

Beyond the Rope argues that the lynched black body should be considered a floating signifier due to how African Americans’ attitudes and representational strategies concerning lynching changed over time. This argument is important because scholars as well as contemporary observers all too often perceive lynching as simply “white-on-black lynching” and the lynched black body as a timeless representation of black death and white terror. My hope for the book is that it will spark discussions about societal attitudes toward lynching and push historians to probe more deeply into the variety of narratives and multiple relationships African Americans have had with lynching and the lynched black body over the long twentieth century.

Co-sponsored with the Harvard Coop Bookstore