Jessica Ingram is a photographic conceptual artist based in Tallahassee, Florida. She received degrees in photography and political science from New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts and an MFA in fine arts from California College of Arts & Crafts (now California College of the Arts) in San Francisco. She is on the faculty in the Department of Art at Florida State University in Tallahassee. She has been a distinguished fellow at the Hambidge Center in Rabun Gap, Georgia, and a recurring visiting artist and scholar at Columbus State University in Georgia. Ingram’s series Road Through Midnight: A Civil Rights Memorial, received the Santa Fe Prize and is the subject of a forthcoming monograph from the University of North Carolina Press. Her work is held in the permanent collections of the Oakland Museum of California and the Tennessee State Museum in Nashville.
Road Through Midnight: A Civil Rights Memorial documents historic sites of tragedy and struggle in Southern states. Ingram’s photographs expand the narrative of the civil rights era and highlight inadequacies in the South’s reckoning with its history of racial violence. Yet, they also attempt to foster new conversations by bringing attention to these places and thus changing the way the South discusses (or avoids discussing) their significance. While taking her photographs, Ingram also collected oral histories and ephemera from family members, libraries, and archives. Together with the photographs, her rich project offers a multilayered memorial to the many lives lost along the path to racial and social justice in the South.
Southbound includes two of Ingram’s photographs of Stone Mountain near Atlanta, Georgia. Top of Stone Mountain, Stone Mountain, Georgia (2006) shows the expansive view of the green Atlanta suburbs from the smooth granite peak. A rickety fence keeps hikers from climbing too close to the edge. Today, the popular tourist site is owned by the state of Georgia, but it was previously owned by the Venable Brothers who worked in the rock quarry business. The brothers first allowed a small group of hooded, robed men to meet there in 1915 to burn a cross and reignite the Ku Klux Klan. Then they granted them an easement on the property that allowed them to hold celebrations there in perpetuity, including an annual Labor Day cross burning that continued until the 1960s. The peak includes no historical marker acknowledging the site’s storied history. Ingram’s second photograph, Stone Mountain Confederate Memorial Carving, Stone Mountain, Georgia (2006), shows a group of tourists being lifted by the Summit Skyride. The visitors include an African American woman who snaps photographs as the gondola passes by the hill’s famed Confederate Memorial carved in stone. This large relief carving depicts equestrian portraits of Confederate President Jefferson Davis and Generals Robert E. Lee and Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson. The two photographs point to the South’s selective memory of its past. Historical memories of Southern pride are writ large on the mountain while other shameful past events on the mountain have been erased.
Another of Ingram’s photographs, Law Office, Pulaski, Tennessee (2006), shows the front of the building where the Klan was first founded. To the left of the office’s red front door is a square bronze plaque that has been turned around backward so that the text can no longer be read. The now hidden text states: “The Ku Klux Klan organized in this The Law Office of Judge Thomas M. Jones, December 24, 1865.” The plaque was commissioned in 1917 by the United Daughters of the Confederacy to commemorate the site in the wake of the second rise of the KKK. In the 1980s, when the building was bought by Pulaski attorney Donald Massey, it was still a site of pilgrimage for contemporary Klan members, who organized marches there during the annual January Martin Luther King Jr. holiday. Massey decided to reverse the plaque to hide its message and symbolically shun racism. Ingram’s photograph sheds light on the complexity of the South’s struggles with how to memorialize its history of racial violence when such violence still exists today.