In late May 1918 in Valdosta, Georgia, ten Black men and one Black woman--Mary Turner, eight months pregnant at the time--were lynched and tortured by mobs of white citizens.
Through hauntingly detailed full-color artwork and collage, Elegy for Mary Turner names those who were killed, identifies the killers, and evokes a landscape in which the NAACP investigated the crimes when the state would not and a time when white citizens baked pies and flocked to see Black corpses while Black people fought to make their lives--and their mourning--matter.
With Elegy for Mary Turner, Williams joins a century-long movement of artists responding to the kind of racist violence that's louder than words. Elegy is a bit of a hybrid of a graphic novel and an art book. Using a mix of original illustrations, archival documents and handwritten text, Williams memorializes 10 black men and one woman, Mary Turner, who were lynched by white residents in Brooks County, Ga., in 1918 ... So how do you challenge an evil that transcends language? Williams starts by slowing down ... Mary Turner's killers chose a supremely ironic day for an act that was meant to foreclose the possibility of speech. Williams' Elegy is a reminder that lynching ultimately failed to do that, and will continue to fail as long as people honor and grieve its victims. Just as importantly, though, Williams demonstrates how to fight the kind of evil that stuns you into silence. If you can't do it with words, go beyond them.
Now comes Rachel Marie-Crane Williams’ book, Elegy for Mary Turner: An Illustrated Account of a Lynching. It retells the story in a manner at once unflinching, and, at turns, delicate. The delicacy is owed to Williams’ rendering. The book resembles a vintage scrapbook or diary, perhaps discovered years ago in an old chest of drawers by a descendant of the madness, then placed in a box and shoved under a bed because its contents were abominable.
Marie-Crane Williams (Run Home If You Don’t Want to Get Killed) documents the 1918 murder of Mary Turner in this harrowing graphic work that incorporates explicit block prints, historical newspaper clippings, and yellowed telegrams to create the feel of a haunted scrapbook ... Marie-Crane Williams builds her wrenching elegy around a series of evocative prints interspersed with tactile, infuriating primary source documents ... This succinct work confronts readers with atrocity, in a necessary tribute.