Dread Scott’s flag work A Man Was Lynched by Police Yesterday is now part of the permanent collection of the Museum of Contemporary Art in San Diego, California, and is in the process of being acquired by the Whitney Museum in New York. The works are from two separate editions—the MCA flag is part of a 25-work edition dated 2017, while the Whitney banner is part of a four-work edition from 2015. Scott’s flag went to San Diego in May and is currently in the final stages of acquisition in New York, according to a Whitney spokesperson, as it flies in the exhibition “An Incomplete History of Protest: Selections from the Whitney’s Collection, 1940–2017.”
The work made waves last year when it hung outside Jack Shainman Gallery in New York as part of a group show organized by Hank Willis Thomas and Eric Gottesman. The words emblazoned on the it, A MAN WAS LYNCHED BY POLICE YESTERDAY, are an allusion to a similar flag that hung in the 1920s and ’30s above the Manhattan headquarters for the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. (The NAACP flag had slightly different wording: A MAN WAS LYNCHED YESTERDAY.)
Incidentally, Scott’s flag went up in New York’s Chelsea gallery district the same day that five police officers were killed in Dallas, in an act of suspected retribution. The timing led Fox News to report soon thereafter on the flag after the high-profile event. Threats to the gallery’s staff followed, but the banner remained until, nearly a week after its unfurling, Shainman removed it after his landlord threatened legal action. Despite its short run, A Man Was Lynched by Police Yesterday became a social-media sensation as a protest image that could signal a show of solidarity with communities affected by police violence.
Speaking to Andrianna Campbell for ARTnews last year, Scott explained that the work, which he made in response to the 2015 killing of Walter Scott, an unarmed black man, by a white police officer in North Charleston, South Carolina, was meant to bring the current political moment into conversation with the past. “You’re approximately six times more likely to be killed by the police if you’re black than if you’re white,” Scott said. “That is the terror that is perpetuated among people today, and that is the legacy of lynching. I want this flag to be a phantasm of the past: both as a means to mark this horror from the past that exists in the present, but also as the resistance from the past that persists in the present. The flag was flown because the NAACP organized people to stop lynching.”