Tuesday, December 13, 2011

A Moment of Racism Frozen in Time

I came across this image some time ago and have been thinking a lot about it. I don't know the particulars of the image (perhaps a reader will?). What stands out to me is the horror of the image as well as a reminder of the racism that is inherent in how our criminal justice system metes out "punishment."

What do you think? More importantly, what do you see?


  1. typically you don't see then guys strapping the guy in a chair in suits, and nice shoes. Definitely a lot going on in terms of injustice, inequality, and power.

  2. Jlee, the clothes, including those of the man being executed, make the image even more haunting. Something about the civilized dress in the very uncivilized environment of an execution chamber. It adds to the horror. And speaks a lot to the likely turn of the century era this image came from.

  3. This information about the image was shared about the photo by a friend on Facebook:

    An African-American prisoner is prepared for execution in "Old Sparky," Sing-Sing Prison's infamous electric chair. Photograph taken circa 1900 by William M. Van der Weyde.
    Image courtesy of the Library of Congress.

  4. But do you know the identity of the prisoner? Who he was and why he was committed to the chair?

    1. You inspired me to do a little research -- when I originally selected that image I thought less about the individual and more about the radial and long standing disparities in the criminal justice system and the rates of blacks vs. whites executed for crimes.

      I did a little research. It seems that this image, which is replicated across the internet many times, is a fake. A quick search suggests that the person is actually Albert Fish, who was executed. Albert was a cannibal and a serial killer.

      See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Albert_Fish and http://www.infobarrel.com/media/image/73186.jpg for more information.