American Corner Innsbruck

    Lecture by Mag. Karin Walpurga Köll


    Jan. 21, 2009, 7 p.m., 50109/3



    For the last talk of the public lecture series this semester, the American Corner Innsbruck invited Mag. Karin Walpurga Köll to present her research on U.S. hate crimes and lynch law. The talk attracted an audience of around 25, including students, faculty, and others interested in the topic.
    Mag. Karin Köll introduced the audience of her well attended lecture to the inhuman world of lynching in an unusual manner – with a game of hangman. This playful, yet provocative approach to an inglorious phenomenon of American history not only revealed the macabre thoughtlessness inherent to this children’s game, but simultaneously provided the transition to Köll’s first chapter “Popular Justice.”

    Popular justice, the euphemistic link between lynching and hate crimes, aims at maintaining hierarchies. In the case of hate crimes, it is motivated by bias against race, religion, ethnic or national origin and functions as an informal mechanism of control. In the American South, this means of safeguarding white supremacy focused on poor people of African American origin whose lack of political power made them “fair game” for hate crime perpetrators who frequently accused innocents of alleged homicide or rape, which was followed by torture and hanging. According to Mag. Köll, this burden of the past still weighs heavily on the American mind, a statement she underscored by listing a 2005 resolution by the U.S. Senate apologizing for the failure to enact federal anti-lynching laws, as well as the photo exhibition “Without Sanctuary” in 2000 as examples.

    The presentation and analysis of some of the latter’s exhibits provided the audience with an uncomfortably detailed look at lynching: A series of grotesque photographs and even postcards depicted not the expected torch-bearing and pitchfork-wielding mobs, but entire families gathering around the burnt and broken bodies of their victims, the grins on their faces infinitely adding to the already gruesome atmosphere of the pictures. Mag. Köll went on to explain that people attending a lynching would often take “souvenirs” – parts of the hanging tree, the rope, or even of the charred corpse – with them.

    The bloody history of lynch violence in the U.S. petered out in the 1960s due to increasing legal awareness and the emerging civil rights movement led by Martin Luther King, whose words concluded Mag. Köll’s presentation: “It may be true that the law cannot make a man love me, but it can keep him from lynching me, and I think that’s pretty important.”
    (text: Andreas Leisner)

    The talk was followed by a reception kindly provided by
    Café-Konditorei Edelweiß (Geschwister Sailer), Hauptstraße 41, 6263 Fügen, Tel. 05288 62244



    The histories of lynching and hate crimes reveal that both violent crimes are perpetrated by people who regard their deeds as just (for the sake of maintaining traditional social hierarchies). The lack of serious legal consequences of lynchings reinforced the ruthless attitude that facilitated a continuing rule of lynch law. Cultural remnants of a biased lynch law have persisted and founded the societal basis, that is, a widespread mindset, for hate crimes. The aim of the presentation is to show how hate crime legislation has counteracted this mentality of racial, economic and gender discrimination that had led to a misguided perception of justice and the formation of a widely accepted biased popular “justice.”

    Karin Walpurga Köll is a Ph.D. student at the Department of American Studies at the University of Innsbruck. She wrote her M.A. thesis about “Death in Postmodern American Fiction” and is currently working on her dissertation “Killing Justice: Race, Gender, Class, and Violent Death in American Culture and Law.”

    Looking forward to welcoming you to this ACI event,
    Univ.-Prof. Mag. Dr. Gudrun M. Grabher
    Director, American Corner Innsbruck

    American Corner Innsbruck
    Department of American Studies
    Herzog Friedrich Straße 3, 1. Stock (Altstadt, Claudiana)
    6020 Innsbruck

    T +43 512 507-7064, F +43 512 507-2879,