In July of 1916, at the end of a long day, readers all across the US picked up the most recent issue of a new magazine, maybe from a coffee table or while browsing at the library. Its cover image was ordinary: recent college graduates, the women dressed in white lace and the men in fine suits.
The articles seemed standard, too, with pieces about young doctors, a new production of Shakespeare, and baseball. But then, at the end, readers were taken aback by something entirely gruesome: an eight-page supplement featuring pictures of an African American man being lynched, step by step, from the convening of the mob to the hanging to the body in a heap of ashes. Nothing was censored – and that was the point.
The magazine was the Crisis, the monthly publication of the then new NAACP, edited by WEB Du Bois. The images were part of a campaign that appropriated and subverted racist imagery for progressive purposes. They were a revelation, one that cemented the NAACP’s status as a leading civil rights organization and opened Americans’ eyes to horrific hate crimes across the country.