Martin Campbell ’15 & the Davidson Die-In, 2014
Authored by Ramona M. Davis ’21 in “Black Student Activism at Davidson College“
last updated 02.09.2021
Two years later in 2014, the Davidsonian published three images alongside an article on a student organized Die-In. Over 100 students and some faculty members donned t-shirts with the names of black victims of police brutality and laid down Main Street during Christmas at Davidson. Students like Morgan Spivey and Gladys McClean organized this protest in the aftermath of the court’s decision not to indict Michael Brown’s murderer. Michael Brown’s case galvanized black rage against police violence, creating the #BlackLives Matter that made its way to Davidson. Becoming a physical representation of rampant bloodshed on Main Street increases the visibility of this violence and explicitly connects it back to the Davidson experience.
This photo centers on a black male Davidson student who’s acting out his death, proving that even black students in the ivory tower of academia are vulnerable to the ever present reality of violence against black bodies. The names of black men on the t-shirts are not clearly legible, further decentering the individual in favor of understanding police brutality as a widespread community issue. This high visibility demonstration creates space to address the issue of black death without the exploitative nature of circulating images of dead black people on social media. The BSC activists leading the event “worked together to come up with a concept that would really disrupt the normal pace of things at Davidson because it is a bubble.” (M. Spivey Interview, personal communication, Nov 20, 2020).
Martin Cambell ‘15 has “peace” written across his black hat, implicitly asking: Is this what peace looks like? Black students articulate their experiences of microaggressions and systemic oppression at Davidson that also constitute forms of violence against black people. Main Street is no longer an idyllic, “safe” place, but the Davidson community is a place that perpetuates racial violence. Incidentally, a receptacle with “republic services” can be seen right next to the cardboard sign with #Black Lives Matter written on it. While the sign’s placement is unintentional, it provokes engagement with the juxtaposition of a Die-In and the United States’ conception of republic. Supposedly, we live in a democratic republic where the concerns of citizens are meant to be addressed by governing bodies. The waste service bin only draws attention to how the state fails in its most basic function of protecting and representing the interests of all citizens. If the students were actually dead, one might see traces of blood on the ground, yet the only red in this photo is the red logo for the republic services. The blood is on the hands of our republic, a republic which empowers state officials to antagonize and murder black people.
The silence of the protest mirrors the effective silence of a state that refuses to indict those who murder black people in broad daylight. It imbues these black bodies with the power taken from those who have been murdered by police. The Davidsonian published multiple photos of the Die-In, yet the only photo with a single subject centers a black man. When Raiford analyzes lynching photos, she discusses the “unifying work of the camera and an ongoing compulsion to visualize black (male) victimization as legitimate claims on the state.” (Raiford, 25). Even as the #Black Lives Matter movement pushes a more intersectional agenda, the black man still remains the primary victim of police brutality in the public eye. Although the protest was organized by black women and they do appear in some photos, this particular photo indicates a larger tendency within activism and black studies. Carter argues that “remaining politically wedded to the idea that centering issues disproportionately affecting Black men and boys will make, and keep, all Black folk free needs to be cancelled.” In recent years, black people are moving away from this tendency, but the mainstream media is not.