Clayton Jackson McGhie memorial attracts Ph.D. researcherHow to finish a Ph.D. thesis may not be the first thought to come to mind when someone takes a moment to spend time at the Clayton Jackson McGhie Memorial. That’s about to change.
By: Thomas Vaughn, Duluth Budgeteer News
How to finish a Ph.D. thesis may not be the first thought to come to mind when someone takes a moment to spend time at the Clayton Jackson McGhie Memorial. That’s about to change.
Recently La Tanya Autry, a Ph.D. candidate in the department of art history at the University of Delaware, returned to Duluth for a second look at the memorial site after her first visit three years ago in 2009. Autry commented that her recent visit a few weeks ago was different than her 2009 visit, when she spent time focusing on the site in terms of its landscape space, walls, quotations and sculpted
“This time I was interested in the social effects of the memorial. I wanted to know how it has affected the people who live in Duluth,” said Autry.
Just last month, Autry came to participate in the vigil, remembrance event and the Juneteenth gathering. She wanted to see what it was all about, find out who attends, and learn more about other programs that the memorial board and agencies with which the board partners have developed within and for the local community.
“I went to the Juneteenth celebration in the Central Hillside. I met with a lot of people there. Some were memorial board members; others were people in the community. I met with so many people and got some diverse points of view. People have been very helpful. The librarians at the Duluth Public Library were extremely helpful, too,” said Autry, in talking about how she spent her time in Duluth.
Autry first learned of the memorial when she began working on her master’s degree thesis in preparation for doctoral work. Her thesis, “Landscapes Interrupted: A Study of the Without Sanctuary Lynching Postcards,” surveyed an archival collection of photographs and postcards taken during actual lynching events across America.
As an art history student, Autry is spending time following and analyz-ing different localized responses to
commemorative initiatives that recall lynching crimes perpetrated on African-Americans. She has followed a debate in Waco, Texas where a sculpture has been proposed, but which townspeople have rejected to date. She has also catalogued many sites marked only by roadside signs or historical markers. She has even learned about a historic reenactment of a lynching held in Georgia.
“This memorial is very, very different than other ones, especially in its use of sculpture. It creates a space. This is really a gathering area. That’s something unusual about it, it’s a community gathering place,” said Autry, whose knowledge of lynching-memorial commemorative efforts now extends back through five previous years of graduate research and study.
One of her principal ongoing interests is learning more about how communities use material culture — a specialized term denoting how people create objects and define space inside a particular landscape area — to shape society at large.
After earning her doctorate, Autry hopes to work as a teacher or curator and turn her dissertation into a book. She hopes to feature the Clayton Jackson McGhie Memorial in her projects going forward. Autry has a website at http://artstuffmatters.wordpress.com/