Independent artist LaShawnda Crowe Storm is not an activist nor has she dug into her past and discovered that an ancestor had died by the noose. However, the subject of lynching is one that Crowe Storm realizes is an irrefutable part of American life and although Blacks are no longer hanged in trees, lynching continues to persist in other ways.
Crowe Storm used art in the form of drawings, paintings, collages and postcards to expose people to the history of lynching and create dialogue. She plunged deeper into the subject and found that although many of the lynching victims were Black men, women and children were also heinously lynched. From her findings, Crowe Storm began The Lynch Quilts Project.
"For me, when you think about women and the history of women, textiles is always a part of that worldwide - it's common," said Crowe Storm. "I looked at what quilts mean to people, the metaphors of fabric and textiles and how that can further be connected with the history of lynching."
Mirroring quilting bees, The Lynch Quilts Project is a community-based effort meant to explore the history of lynching and consequences of racial violence.
As a sculptor by trade, Crowe Storm had to learn how to sew and with the assistance of experienced quilters created her first quilt in 2004 titled "Her Name Was Laura Nelson."
During her education in textiles, Crowe Storm connected with women's groups and quilting circles to get others involved in the project. The project gained momentum and includes quilters nationwide who are using it to educate their communities about the history of lynching. Crowe Storm, a native of Indianapolis, creates the patterns and disseminates them along with information to quilters.
Not only were supporters of her project sending Crowe Storm fabric, many were also sending in quilting and lynching stories.
"Not everyone can sew and people have wanted to contribute in different ways. It gives them the opportunity to further explore this topic," said Crowe Storm who added that participating researchers and genealogists bring richness and depth to the project.
Eighty-year-old master quilter, Otis Grove, who belongs to the Needles and Threads Quilters Guild in Chicago, has been involved since the project's beginnings. He comes from a long his tory of quilters and also has a personal investment.
"Living in Mobile (Ala.), I saw things that happened. The Ku Klux Klan used to march in Mobile. It was one of those things that we were constantly aware of and it was always a fear, especially for young Black males being out at night," said Grove.
Unlike Grove, many have not embraced The Lynch Quilts Project. Still, textile artist Marilyn Michele Kunkel, who is white, saw Crowe Storm's first quilt and was moved into action.
She decided to support Crowe Storm's cause and last year brought The Lynch Quilts Project to her predominantly white hometown of Vernonia, Ore. Kunkel said that many people were repulsed by the project. Whether people supported or disapproved, she said it was a great vehicle for discussion.
"I started to speak about the project at a quilt fair and they had a very physical reaction. One woman said ‘we don't need to talk about that. That's behind us.' Another said ‘I know that Jimmy's grandpa still (makes racial comments).' They continued talking and in 20 minutes agreed that the town could use a project like this," said Kunkel. "I still had people jumping down my throat asking who I was and why would I bring a project like this in the community."
Crowe Storm is grateful for her supporters and is aware that many people aren't prepared for a project like hers.
"If this makes you upset, then those wounds haven't healed. And really there was a lynching in 1964 so the idea that lynching is way in the past is not true," added Crowe Storm.
Two quilts, "RedRum Summer 1919" and "Declaration, Rules and Rights," will be completed in early 2012. Two other quilts will be completed by mid-2012. There is also "Memoria: In Progress," an interactive, traveling exhibition that will later be assembled into a quilt. Crowe Storm is also searching for public locations in Indianapolis to host monthly quilting circles.
Completed quilts will be featured in art exhibitions accompanied by lectures.
Crowe Storm believes that her idea has gone well beyond quilting and hopes people use this project as a vehicle for empowerment and growth.