The lynching of black Americans in the pre-Civil Rights Movement era has been well-documented, and even mainstream Hollywood cinema hasn’t shied away from portraying the barbarous practice in film from the spaghetti westerns of the 1960s to recent Oscar-winning movies such as 12 Years a Slave. However, the fate of Latinos at the hands of murderous vigilante mobs has received much less attention. In RUN UP, photographer and filmmaker Ken Gonzales-Day takes us back to 1920 to re-enact the murder of Charles Valento, aka Spanish Charley. He, along with two Anglo men, was taken from the city jail by a mob of up to 200 and hanged from an oak tree in a graveyard Santa Rosa, California.
A photograph of the event — printed on a postcard and studied by Gonzales Day — reveals Valento to have been the only one of the three victims to have been stripped of his shirt and had his hands and feet bound. There is a rumour, fuelled by the absence of the lynch mob in the picture, that local law enforcement participated in the act. In Gonzales Day’s film re-enactment, which focuses specifically on Valento’s murder, it is the body which is missing from the final scene, while the mob remains lit by the headlights of unseen conspirators. The latest work, part of the artist’s Erased Lynching series, is interspersed with stills shot in Los Angeles and Missouri in the aftermath of the Ferguson Grand Jury indictment over the killing of unarmed black teen Michael Brown, drawing parallels between the vigilantism of lynching and police shootings today. Los Angeles gallery Luis De Jesus hosts RUN UP from 4 April to 9 May.