Jordan Zdinak takes her research on Athens lynching to the American Political History Conference

Published: October 15, 2022 Author: Staff reports

Jordan Zdinak has already illuminated a little-known part of Athens history with her work on the lynching of Christopher Davis. Now as a doctoral student, she's expanding her research to lynchings across the Midwest.

Zdinak presented her work at the American Political History Conference this summer with a paper on “Public History as Justice: Christopher Davis and the Equal Justice Initiative.” 

Held at Purdue University, the conference focused on the past, present and future of American democracy. Zdinak’s panel, titled “Marginalized Communities and Grand Narratives of American Politics,” sought to expand the narrative of American culture by offering political histories of marginalized groups from the 18th through the 21st centuries and by exploring novel ways of communicating these accounts to the broader public.

Her talk explained how historical markers are one way to get the general public to acknowledge racial violence and this dark part of the nation's history.

Zdinak was instrumental in not only researching the Davis lynching for her master's thesis, but also energizing the Athens community to join with the Equal Justice Initiative and install a historical marker under the Richland Avenue bridge, near where Davis was lynched.

“I used the 1881 lynching of Christopher Davis in Athens, Ohio as a case study to analyze common characteristics of lynching across the U.S., such as white men promulgating racist views about the oversexualization of African American men to create an irrational fear of the ‘Black rapist,’” Zdinak said. Her thesis research drew upon her work with the Christopher Davis Community Remembrance Project, a coalition that worked together to erect the local marker.

“Our group collaborated with the Equal Justice Initiative, a nonprofit which seeks to provide lawyers for wrongly convicted Black Americans, end mass incarceration, and help find justice for those on death row. EJI also works to spread awareness about racial violence throughout the U.S. One way they achieve this is by funding markers to acknowledge victims of lynchings as a way to educate the public,” Zdinak said.

Zdinak, who earned an M.A. in history from the College of Arts and Sciences at Ohio University in 2020, is now a third-year history Ph.D. student studying with Katherine Jellison, professor of history in the College of Arts and Sciences.

Zdinak’s broader research focuses on gender and race relations in the United States, and she is currently researching four other lynchings that were commemorated in the Midwest. Zdinak notes that there is a common misconception that lynching only happened in the South, but there were many lynchings that occurred in the Midwest of which people are unaware.

“I want to investigate how lynchings are remembered. Why are some lynchings commemorated and others aren’t? Hopefully my research will shed light on this often forgotten piece of American history,” Zdinak said.

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