“The Negro has been run over for 50 years, but it must stop now, and pistols and shotguns are the only weapons to stop a mob.”~ Eli Cooper
As a farmer and an outspoken advocate for unionizing farm laborers, Eli Cooper was determined to fight for better wages from landowners, however his advocacy was met with resistance among white detractors who responded to Cooper’s demands with threats and a warning: Cooper was told that if he continued he would be found dead, “some bright morning”.
In the early hours of August 28, 1919, the charred remains of Eli Cooper were found near a tree next to a burned down black church. His body had been found riddled with bullets after a mob of 20 men armed with axes and knives broke into his home, killed Cooper in front of his wife and drug him to the church where his corpse was burned. When local black farmers got wind of the lynching their efforts to extinguish the fire at the church were met with a mob of white men who refused to allow them to intervene.
This story became the impetus behind artist Mel Edwards’ pivotal Lynch Fragments Series that consisted of sculpture originally created between 1963 and 1967. The first of this series was aptly named Some Bright Morning, a medium scale work made from welded steel and found materials including chains, spikes and fabricated forms that resemble ax handles and charred coal. This body of work led to Edwards’ first solo show at the Santa Barbara Museum of Art, and by the time Edwards turned 33 he had already had 4 solo shows. NYT art critic Michael Brenson wrote in 1988 that Edwards “is one of the best American sculptors. He is also one of the least known.” Known for his assemblage work and large-scale commissioned works, Edwards is known for combining metal fabrication with assemblage to form abstracted works that are charged with political commentary. The Lynch Fragment Series was inspired by the book 100 Years of Lynchings by Ralph Ginzburg, which contains the Chicago Defender’s account of Eli Cooper’s lynching.
Edwards’ work is currently being shown in Samuel Levi Jones’ show Sidelined at Galerie Lelong & Co. in New York.