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History of Lynching in the United States
Jana Evans Braziel, Assistant Professor
229B Mc Micken Hall
Department of English and Comparative Literature
University of Cincinnati
ML 210069
Cincinnati, OH 45221-0069
Office # (513) 556-0834
Fax # (513) 556-5960
jana.braziel@uc.edu
evans_braziel@hotmail.com

From Stewart E. Tolnay and E.M. Beck, A Festival of Violence: An Analysis of Southern Lynchings, 1882-1930.

Urbana and Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 1992.

There are "2805 [documented] victims of lynch mobs killed between 1882 and 1930 in ten southern states. Although mobs murdered almost 300 white men and women, the vast majorityóalmost 2,500óof lynch victims were African-American. Of these black victims, 94 percent died in the hands of white lynch mobs. The scale of this carnage means that, on the average, a black man, woman, or child was murdered nearly once a week, every week, between 1882 and 1930 by a hate-driven white mob" (ix).

Post-Civil War / Reconstruction Era

"Black Codes: Laws passed by southern states that attempted to regain control of the southern black labor force.

Civil Rights Act of 1866: African Americans became citizens of the U.S, under this statute; following this civil rights act, riots erupted in many southern states.

"In every southern state there was an assault on any activity that contested the privileges of whites or threatened to hinder white domination of the black population, including wresting the reins of political power from blacks, northern carpetbaggers, and sympathetic white southerners, known as 'scalawags'" (8).

A Portrait of the Lynching Era, 1880-1930

"The lynching era encompasses roughly the five decades between the end of Reconstruction and the beginning of the Great Depression. During these years we may estimate that there were 2,018 separate incidents of lynching in which at least 2,462 African-American men, women and children met their deaths in the grasp of southern mobs, comprised mostly of whites. Although lynchings and mob killings occurred before 1880, notably during early Reconstruction when blacks were enfranchised, radical racism and mob violence peaked during the 1890s in a surge of terrorism that did not dissipate until well into the twentieth century" (17).

"In addition to the punishment of specific criminal offenders, lynching in the American South had three entwined functions:

"Lethal mob violence for seemingly minor infractions of the caste codes of behavior was more fundamental for maintaining terroristic social control than punishment for what would seem to be more serious violations of the criminal codes" (19).

Questions:

What determined a "criminal offense"? What constituted proof? How many men were lynched based on false allegations? What about due process?

"Between 1882 and the late 1980s, the annual number of black victims grew alarmingly: exceeding ninety in 1892 and 1893. From the zenith reached during the "bloody '90s," the number of blacks killed by lynch mobs began a protracted decline over the next three decades, reaching a nadir of fewer than ten victims annually in 1928 and 1929" (29).

"Lynchings were concentrated in a swath running through Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, and Louisiana: the region often referred to as the 'Black Belt'" (36).

"Mob violence against African-Americans served four functions within southern society during the lynching era:

  1. to eradicate specific persons accused of crimes against the white community;
  2. as a mechanism of state-sanctioned terrorism designed to maintain a degree of leverage over the African-American population;
  3. to eliminate or neutralize competitors for social, economic, or political rewards; and
  4. as a symbolic manifestation of the unity of white supremacy" (50).

Table 2-2. Black Victims of White
Lynch Mobs by State, 1882-1930
State No. of victims
Deep South
Mississippi
462
Georgia
423
Louisiana
283
Alabama
262
South Carolina
143
Border South
Florida
212
Tennessee
174
Arkansas
162
Kentucky
118
North Carolina
75

Table 2-3. Black Victims of Lynchings per
100,000 Blacks by State, 1882-1930
State No. of victims per 100,000
Deep South
Mississippi
52.8
Georgia
41.8
Louisiana
43.7
Alabama
32.4
South Carolina
18.8
Border South
Florida
79.8
Tennessee
38.4
Arkansas
42.6
Kentucky
45.7
North Carolina
11.0

Table 2-5. The Reasons Given for Black Lynchings
  • Acting suspiciously
  • Gambling
  • Quarreling
  • Adultery
  • Grave robbing
  • Race hatred; Race troubles
  • Aiding murderer
  • Improper with white woman
  • Rape
  • Arguing with white man
  • Incest
  • Rape-murders
  • Arson Inciting to riot
  • Resisting mob
  • Assassination
  • Inciting trouble
  • Robbery
  • Attempted murder
  • Indolence
  • Running a bordello
  • Banditry
  • Inflammatory language
  • Sedition
  • Being disreputable
  • Informing
  • Slander
  • Being obnoxious
  • Injuring livestock
  • Spreading disease
  • Boasting about riot
  • Insulting white man
  • Stealing
  • Burglary
  • Insulting white woman
  • Suing white man
  • Child abuse
  • Insurrection
  • Swindling
  • Conjuring
  • Kidnapping
  • Terrorism
  • Courting white woman
  • Killing livestock
  • Testifying against white man
  • Criminal assault
  • Living with white woman
  • Throwing stones
  • Cutting levee
  • Looting
  • Train wrecking
  • Defending rapist
  • Making threats
  • Trying to colonize blacks
  • Demanding respect
  • Miscegenation
  • Trying to vote
  • Disorderly conduct
  • Mistaken identity
  • Unpopularity
  • Eloping with white woman
  • Molestation
  • Unruly remarks
  • Entered white woman's room
  • Murder
  • Using obscene language
  • Enticement
  • Non-sexual assault
  • Vagrancy
  • Extortion
  • Peeping Tom
  • Violated quarantine
  • Fraud
  • Pillage
  • Voodooism
  • Plotting to kill
  • Voting for wrong party
  • Frightening white woman
  • Poisoning well

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