Skip to main content

Sign up for our newsletter.

Quality journalism. Progressive values. Direct to your inbox.

Corporate gatekeepers and big tech monopolists are making it more difficult than ever for independent media to survive. Please chip in today.

The handgun used by George Zimmerman in the shooting death of Trayvon Martin. Zimmerman had put it up for auction for the reserve price of $5,000. (Photograph: Handout/Reuters)

George Zimmerman and the Long History of Selling "Souvenirs"

Shawn Leigh Alexander

Former neighborhood watch member George Zimmerman’s decision, one he has apparently reconsidered, to sell, as he describes, “the firearm that was used to defend my life and end the brutal attack from Trayvon Martin” is just an another link in the long chain of America’s historical obsession with selling and owning memorabilia connected with the murder of African Americans. 

In the nineteenth and twentieth centuries spectators used to hoard pieces of rope, body parts, embers and charred remains of lynching victims.  During the twentieth century pictures of the horrific murders were sold on the streets and some individuals would send the images as postcards to friends and loved ones proudly proclaiming participation, spectatorship or just some fiendish connection with the event.

We are a nation that often self-righteously proclaims our innocence to the world. Witness, for example, a presidential candidate who has repeatedly expressed astonishment that ISIS members would decapitate individuals who did not agree with them, all the while glossing over America’s brutal, horrific past that has included beheadings, burnings, hangings, dismemberment, and the display and selling of body parts as a type of totemic relics. 

We are a nation that was stupefied and petrified in 2004 when the bodies of American soldiers were left hanging from a bridge in Fallujah, forgetting, ignoring or simply unaware that this type of terrorist spectacle occurred repeatedly in America during the time of what scholar, activist W. E. B. Du Bois called the lynching industry, 1880s-1950s.

The selling of a gun used to kill an unarmed African American as a trophy, or “an opportunity to own a piece of American history” is unacceptable.  As a nation we should demand more. Remember: it is rarely the inmates in a madhouse who judge themselves to be insane, but is a task that usually falls to those on the outside.


Our work is licensed under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0). Feel free to republish and share widely.

Shawn Leigh Alexander

Shawn Leigh Alexander is associate professor of African and African American Studies and director of the Langston Hughes Center at the University of Kansas.  He is the author of An Army of Lions: The Struggle for Civil Rights before the NAACP (2012); W. E. B. Du Bois: An American Intellectual and Activist (2015); and the editor of a collection of T. Thomas Fortune’s writings, T. Thomas Fortune: The Afro-American Agitator (2008).

We've had enough. The 1% own and operate the corporate media. They are doing everything they can to defend the status quo, squash dissent and protect the wealthy and the powerful. The Common Dreams media model is different. We cover the news that matters to the 99%. Our mission? To inform. To inspire. To ignite change for the common good. How? Nonprofit. Independent. Reader-supported. Free to read. Free to republish. Free to share. With no advertising. No paywalls. No selling of your data. Thousands of small donations fund our newsroom and allow us to continue publishing. Can you chip in? We can't do it without you. Thank you.

Kentucky Progressive Charles Booker Wins Democratic US Senate Primary

"We're going to beat Rand Paul," Booker confidently predicted, by "inspiring a vision that encourages people to believe things can be better."

Brett Wilkins ·


As Senators Try to Expand War Crimes Jurisdiction, Critics Ask if US War Criminals Count

"I've got names and addresses of American war criminals if any senators are interested," quipped veteran journalist Nick Turse.

Brett Wilkins ·


Climate Campaigners Demand Oxford, Cambridge Stop Taking Fossil Fuel Money

"This funding undermines climate justice, fueling the continued disproportionate harms of the fossil fuel industry on marginalized communities worldwide."

Julia Conley ·


Palestine Defenders Hail Rep. Tlaib's 'Historic' Nakba Resolution

"The time has come for the United States to correct an ongoing historical mistake it committed by recognizing the Palestinian Nakba, and to pressure Israel to respect American values that call for justice, equality, and freedom for all."

Brett Wilkins ·


Earth's Atmospheric CO2 Hasn't Been This High In Millions of Years

"Either we drive the fossil fuel industry into extinction—or the human race."

Kenny Stancil ·

Common Dreams Logo