Ashes to Ashes: US Lynchings and a Story of Survival

Winfred Rembert, a survivor of a lynching attempt, befriends fellow artist on a mission to memorialise forgotten names.

Winfred Rembert, 74, is a Star Wars fanatic and leather artist who grew up picking cotton on a plantation in Georgia in the United States.

He joined the civil rights movement as a teenager and survived a lynching attempt when he was 21 years old.

Decades on, he develops a friendship with Dr Shirley Jackson Whitaker, a physician and fellow artist who is on a mission to memorialise the forgotten 4,000 African Americans lynched during the Jim Crow era, which enforced racial segregation in the Southern states from 1877 through to the 1950s.

Together, their journeys of healing intertwine.


By Taylor Freesolo Rees

At a time when the word “survival” is more commonly associated with televised adventure, Winfred Rembert, 74, reminds us what the word really means.

As a 21-year-old in 1967, after having escaped wrongful imprisonment in rural Georgia, Winfred was recaptured, tortured, and nearly murdered by a vigilante mob.

Ever since, he has relived that trauma daily, hoping to ease the pain and torment through art, and by sharing the details of this brutal personal history in order to educate others.

Ashes to Ashes started when Shirley, my neighbour, asked us to document her memorial for the forgotten victims of racial violence. The film evolved over time into a love letter and homage to both Shirley and her work, and to the gentle artist and Star Wars fan, Winfred.

What does it take for somebody like Winfred to heal from his trauma? What will it take for American society to heal from both its historic and current racial turmoil?

Voices. It will take Winfred’s voice. And Shirley’s. And the voices of the orators at her ceremony. And ours. And yours.

Our voices are only as strong as the care in our hearts.

We made Ashes to Ashes to better understand the personal pain at the core of racism. We hope this film adds to an understanding of this difficult topic, so the chorus of voices in support of Winfred, Shirley and others may be even louder.