Black Scientist Encounters Racist Effigy of Lynched Black Man While Traveling for PBS Special

A Black scientist recently shared a frightening and racist situation she encountered while traveling to Maryland for a TV special on black bears.

Dr. Rae Wynn-Grant, a conservation scientist and large carnivore ecologist, was traveling for a PBS special called “American Spring Live” on April 28 when she encountered a racist effigy of a lynched Black man hanging from a tree. On Twitter, Wynn-Grant shared how working to protect the environment can be dangerous and “mentally/emotionally costly” for Black scientists.

“I’ve just arrived on location for the show — in Oakland, MD on the border of West Virginia. Upon getting off the highway I was greeted with a big house with a large front lawn and old tree. Hanging from the tree was an effigy of a lynched Black man. Life sized,” Wynn-Grant tweeted. “Continuing down the road, each house was flying a Confederate flag loud and proud. Many homes had confederate symbols posted all around their property,” she added.

“Certainly violent white supremacy masked as a type of proud culture isn’t new to any of us,” Wynn-Grant continued. “But I am tasked with performing science communication at the national level and ideally flawlessly to make PBS and my community proud. And yet, the blatant statement of murdering Black ppl (sic).” Wynn-Grant said that it was a “distraction to say the least, and a heavy mental blow that will take a lot to recover from.” She said that while she does not fear for her safety, she is concerned for people of color who may have to live in the area “out of necessity rather than choice.”

The conservation scientist noted that white alliance, both in and outside of science, should not just be about establishing internships for people of color. “It is dismantling systemic and violent racism in America (& the world),” she wrote. “I want to study bear hibernation with the ease of my white colleagues.” Wynn-Grant did not immediately respond to The North Star’s request for comment.

Unfortunately, imagery of lynching is not uncommon. In 2017, residents of an affluent northern Virginia neighborhood were plunged into controversy when one resident decided to use an effigy of a lynched Black man as a Halloween display. Jamie Stevenson told The Washington Post that she took a picture of the display and attempted to have it taken down. She emailed the homeowners asking them to take down the display, which she said she found “deeply offensive.”

The homeowner responded that it was never his intention to offend anyone but said he would never put it up again. He took down the display the following day. In November 2018, nooses were discovered hanging outside the Mississippi State Capitol along with signs referencing the racially changed Senate runoff race between Democrat Mike Espy, who is Black, and Republican Senator Cindy Hyde-Smith. Hyde-Smith came under fire for saying she would attend a “public hanging,” NBC News reported. She went on to win the race.

Lynchings were a frightening method used for mob justice as racial tensions grew in the United States grew during the late 19th century. Nearly 5,000 lynchings were recorded in the United States between 1882 and 1968, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People said. Of the, 4,743 lynchings recorded, 3,446 involved Black people.

An estimated 79 percent of lynchings occurred in the South, with Mississippi holding the record for the highest lynchings.

About the Author

Nicole Rojas is a breaking news writer for The North Star. She has published in various venues, including Newsweek, GlobalPost, IHS Jane’s Defence Weekly, and the Long Island Post. Nicole graduated from Boston University in 2012 with a degree in print journalism. She is an avid world traveler who recently explored Asia and Australia.