Torture of Mothers


Mothers of the “Harlem Six,” a group of young black men wrongly accused and convicted of murder in the mid-1960s, bond together to defend their sons, and to unite a community in the name of justice. This docu-drama re-enacts the mothers’ struggle to protect their sons and make their story known. (Woodie King, Jr., 1980, 52m)


Followed by discussion with Jacqueline Stewart (UChicago, BCH curator).


This film is part of the video installation Testify (for The Harlem Six), in conjunction with Glenn Ligon’s A Small Band exhibition at the Stony Island Arts Bank through January 31. Here we screen works that reflect on the capacity of Black people to speak truth to power, to address systematic abuses to and through their bodies, and the bodies of others.  In 1964, Harlem teenager Daniel Hamm bravely made his body speak — not only when he opened a fresh bruise while in police custody in order to show his need for medical treatment, but also when he recounted the gory tale, exposing to the world the atrociousness of police brutality, and its denial.
Talking, dancing, singing, remixing, dreaming— the films in this series show how such acts attest to the repetitive, cyclical nature of Black pain and suffering, particularly at the hands of the State.  Yet, like the alternately blinking neon words in Glenn Ligon’s A Small Band on view downstairs, these films also call attention to the power of reflection as resistance.  Testifying is a form of mirroring and repeating that does not merely copy.  Instead, each instance of testifying also has the power to transpose individual acts and memories of violence into newly resonant, radiating calls for empathy, shared outrage, and collective action.