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School of Journalism Alumna’s Investigative Reporting on 1930s Lynching Featured in USA Today, Arizona Republic

Shondiin Silversmith, Media Innovation ’17

CAMD alumna Shondiin Silversmith, who graduated with an MA in Journalism, Media Innovation track, in 2017, has dedicated the last two years of her life to researching and reporting on the gruesome 1930s lynching of Lent Shaw. Shaw was a 42-year-old black farmer, who was accused of attacking (and intending to rape) an 18-year-old white woman in Georgia. Just a few weeks after the accusation, a mob took over the jail where Shaw was being held, dragged him to a tree-lined creek, and killed him. Now, eight decades later, his story is finally being told. All of the interviews, travel, photographs, video content, and more, which Shondiin worked on hand-in-hand with Lent Shaw’s family, have culminated into a full-length, multimedia feature in USA Today, the front page of the Arizona Republic, and AZCentral.com.

The case was initially brought to the School of Journalism’s attention in the Fall of 2016 by the School of Law’s Civil Rights and Restorative Justice Project (CRRJ), an interdisciplinary initiative aimed at uncovering the truth behind racially motivated murders in the South between 1930 and 1970. The Shaw case was particularly moving and engaging because Lent Shaw’s living family members had been identified – and were willing and interested in getting involved.

“This is their story, and it’s a very personal one,” said Shondiin, who is currently a Digital Producer for AZCentral.com. “I’m just the one telling it, and I’m grateful they let me do so.”

In particular, Evan Lewis, now 38-years-old and an education consultant from the Chicago area, was open to sharing, exploring, and further investigating his great-grandfather’s death, something he had been aware of his whole life. He first saw the shocking, black-and-white photo of his great-grandfather’s murder scene when he was just a young child. A photo, as it turns out, that is one of the most famous depictions of America’s gruesome legacy of racism, appearing in history books and museums alike.

“One of the most interesting things about this story is that Evan has made it clear he was not only interested in how his great grandfather died but also how he, and the rest of his family, lived,” Shondiin explained. “He and his family were open and willing to share their story with me and investigate it further, so the CRRJ, my advisor Dina Kraft, and myself all thought, why don’t we go to Georgia?”

That trip, last April, which was made possible by the CRRJ as well as Dina Kraft, turned out to be crucial for Shondiin in gathering evidence, and for Evan, in experiencing and absorbing important family history that would have otherwise remained undiscovered.

“Evan’s family is from Colbert, Georgia, and the trip allowed him to get a better understanding of where his family was from, and to see first-hand the areas where his great grandfather was taken during that time,” Shondiin added. “This was the first time he was able to experience the places that really affected his family in so many ways.”

While in Georgia, Shondiin was able to put together many of the pieces to the Lent Shaw lynching, but there is still so much more to look into.

“I see myself looking further into this case,” she said. “In fact, at this point, we’ve uncovered more questions than answers.”

This feature is Shondiin’s first investigative reporting piece to be published, and she worked up until the last minute to finish packaging the copy and the multimedia assets in just the right way.

“As soon as it went live… I don’t even know how to describe that feeling. I’ve worked so hard on this piece and I know how important it is for the people who have helped me get it to this point, including Evan and his family,” she said. “To see it published was a very emotional moment in my life. I’ve worked on a lot of pieces and stories before but nothing this massive. I am thankful for the great editor, great friends, and great network I had supporting me every step of the way.”

The entire two-year experience has even inspired Shondiin, a Navajo journalist from Steamboat, Ariz., located on the Navajo Nation, to learn more about her own family history and of course, has excited her about finding her next major assignment.  Whatever that may be, one thing is certain – the project will focus on sharing the stories of untold voices.

Shondiin is passionate about ensuring indigenous people’s stories are being seen and heard in mainstream media outlets. She advocates for telling hidden stories that, despite their beauty and uniqueness, would otherwise be left unshared. Her ability to tell these interesting, perhaps unconventional, stories in new and engaging ways, is one of the skills she was able to strengthen during her time as a master’s degree student in the School of Journalism.

“One of the unique aspects of being at Northeastern is that the faculty really pushed for media innovation and being able to share stories in unique ways,” said Shondiin. “I think having been through that experience and educational background while I was producing and packaging the story, and knowing I had that control over it, gave me the confidence I needed to ultimately get the feature in the place I wanted it to be.”