|I searched for over a year to find her. Relying on connections to the Lebanese community in Florida, I got closer and closer until, one day, I was given a phone number. I called and introduced myself, naively anticipating interest and a willingness to speak about the lynching of her father in 1929. Instead, she expressed surprise and a not so subtle anger. |
Emeline was the surviving daughter of Nola and Fannie Romey, Lebanese immigrants to Lake City, Florida. In May of 1929, violence shattered the family. After a minor dispute with Lake City’s Chief of Police, Fannie was gunned down. Nola was hauled off to the local jail, taken away in the night and lynched. His body was found on the on the outskirts of town.
Emeline did eventually speak to me about her parents’ death. During our first meeting in 2005, she shared her handwritten account of the “killings” with me, as well as photographs of her parents that she kept in a decorative metal frame. The conversations I had with Emeline on multiple occasions oscillated between the poles of revelation and concealment, anxiety and release, trepidation and assurance. She wanted her story told and she wanted justice, but she was afraid that those responsible for the murder of her parents would harm her. I understood her ambivalence as an ethical request for a certain kind of silence.
My contribution to this roundtable probes questions around silence as a productive category in Arab American studies. I ask what historians can do with silence despite our training in practices that encourage uncovering, documenting, and of giving voice to the forgotten. Where might the (im)possibility of citation lead us methodologically and conceptually? How might we best follow poet Adrienne Rich’s assertion that “silence may be…the blueprint to a life. It is a presence/it has history a form. Do not confuse it/with any kind of absence?”
I explore these questions by discussing my scholarly relationship to the history of the lynching, and by reflecting on the resonances and reception of my work in the current moment of resurgent reactionary populism.
I also ask these questions in light of the recent constitution of a digital archive of the “Romey Lynchings.” What are the ethical considerations related to the dissemination of images of the lynching victims, and how can feminist analytics inform practices of retrieval and respect for the memory of the bereaved?