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Oklahoma Lynching of Laura Nelson and Her Son

downed red bud petals ice

Lynching of Laura Nelson, L.D. Nelson in Oklahoma

In 1911, an Oklahoma mob lynched Laura Nelson, 35, and her 13-year-old son Lawrence over the Old Schoolton Bridge at Yarbrough’s Crossing west of Okemah. Images of the tragedy were taken and later, brazenly sold as postcards.  James Allen, author of Without Sanctuary: Lynching Photography in America, described the picture of Laura:

Grief and a haunting unreality permeate this photo. The corpse of Laura Nelson retains an indissoluble femininity despite the horror inflicted on it. Specterlike, she seems to float – thistledown light and implausibly still.

Lynching of Laura Nelson | Downed Oklahoma Redbud

I often think about Laura Nelson and her son. Lately, I’ve been talking about her a lot with my daughter Juliette who is planning a portrait of Nelson for her senior portfolio. She is interested in majoring in arts education or photojournalism and will apply to the University of Oklahoma in the fall. Eventually, I want to go to Okemah soon to photograph the place where Laura and her son died and where they are buried. Their graves are unmarked.

But, it rained yesterday and I decided not to go. Someday, I’ll get there, and when I do, I’ll bring back pictures to show you.

Weeping Oklahoma Red Bud

Woody Guthrie, Jesus Christ and A Picture From Life’s Other Side

Woody Guthrie, was born in Okemah. Some reports say his father Charles was present at the lynchings. This troubled Woody throughout his life and he wrote three songs about it including A Picture From Life’s Other Side. This is the third stanza:

Now the next scene is down by the river,
A heart-broken mother and babe,
In the habour light glare see them shiver,
Outcasts that no one will save;
Once she was a true woman
Somebody’s darlin’ and pride,
God help her, she leaps, there is no one to weep,
That’s a picture from life’s other side.

In writing about life’s other side, Woody Guthrie was basically referring to the darkness that pervades our world. Without a doubt, he viewed Christianity as an everyday fight, and a faith that had to be lived. Bob Dylan said he could listen to Woody’s songs and actually learn how to live. To that end, Woody said, “All my songs blow out of Christ.”

Finally, as we travel the highways and byways of this world, may we have the courage to save those wrongly outcasted Woody sang about, and the courage to shine a light on the darkness that permeates life’s other side.


Gen X Blog Jennifer Chronicles

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  1. Lisa Sharp

    My heart is broken that we are still dealing with so much racism in this state. Thank you for sharing this story!

  2. Brett

    An act that was celebrated in 1911 draws universal condemnation, expulsion and shaming when only mentioned today. We may have much more to do, but we have obviously done much.

  3. Andi

    Somehow I am not getting your newsletter, I was subscribed – or maybe it was to your colors newsletter and I now I feel distraught that I have been missing them. I am sorry to say that since I don’t watch television or too much news, I only peripherally heard about this story. As usual you have a keen sense of bridging generations to pull threads from history that I completely admire. And as most people who have an appreciation of history knows, history repeats itself over and over.

  4. lisa e williams

    I can only hope and pray that the world can be better…


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