Lynching in the United States

Lynching in the United States

Lynching in the United States is the practice in the 19th and 20th centuries of the humiliation and killing of people by mobs acting outside the law. These murders, most of them unpunished, often took the form of hanging and burning. Mobs sometimes tortured the victim.

Lynching became highly associated with Southern efforts to retain and enforce white supremacy after their defeat in the American Civil War. In their defeat, Southern whites resisted allowing full legal and civil rights to African Americans. The aftermath of war increased social and economic volatility. The formal end of the war meant that groups shifted to insurgent means to try to resist Federal occupation and changes to the law.

The changes in civil rights of freedmen in the short Reconstruction that immediately followed the Civil War, and then again later in the mid-20th century, aroused anxieties among white citizens about African-American political power. African-American citizens and white allies were lynched during both these periods. Lynchings of civil rights workers during the 1960s in Mississippi galvanized public support for the Civil Rights Movement and legislation.

In the 1870s, Democrats regained power through affiliated militia terrorism of black and white Republicans, assassination of community leaders and political activists, and intimidation and restriction of voters at the polls. Even after the Democrats regained power throughout the South, between 1880 and 1951 the Tuskegee Institute recorded lynchings of 3,437 African-American victims, as well as 1,293 white victims. Southern states created new constitutions from 1890–1908 with provisions that effectively disfranchised most blacks and many poor whites. People who did not vote could not serve on juries, so both groups were further shut out of the political process. White Democrats secured one-party rule in the South, comprising such a powerful voting block in Congress that they consistently defeated or blocked Federal bills against lynching.

African Americans mounted resistance to lynchings in numerous ways: writers, journalists and playwrights mounted public education, protests and lobbying in the late 19th and early 20th century. Through the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), they were joined by white activists. African-American women's club networks raised funds to support the work of public campaigns, including anti-lynching plays. In 1930 white Southern women formed the Association of Southern Women for the Prevention of Lynching to join the struggle. Their petition drives, letter campaigns, meetings and demonstrations helped to highlight the issues. Together the groups' efforts led to a reduction in lynching. [Angela Y. Davis,"Women, Race & Class". New York: Vintage Books, 1983, pp.194-195] In the Great Migration, extending in two waves from 1910 to 1970, 6.5 million African Americans left the South to go to northern and midwestern cities.

Name origin

The term "Lynch's Law" (and subsequently "lynch law" and "lynching") apparently originated during the American Revolution when Charles Lynch, a Virginia justice of the peace, ordered extralegal punishment for Tories (American colonists who remained loyal to the British crown). In the South, members of the abolitionist movement or other people opposing slavery were often targets of lynch mob violence before the American Civil War. [ [ Lynching an Abolitionist in Mississippi.] ]

Social characteristics

There were often three motives for lynchings in the United States. The first was the social aspect: punishing some social wrong or perceived social wrong (such as a violation of Jim Crow) to restore social order.

Another motive was the economic aspect. For example, upon successful lynching of an African American farmer or immigrant merchant, the land would be available and the market opened for white Americans. In much of the Deep South lynchings peaked in the late 19th century, as whites turned to terrorism to dissuade blacks from voting and to enforce Jim Crow laws. In the Mississippi Delta lynchings of blacks increased in the early 20th century as white planters tried to enforce control of labor when more blacks became sharecroppers and laborers.

Lynchings occurred in frontier areas where legal recourse was distant. In the West cattle barons took the law into their own hands by hanging those they perceived as cattle thieves.

Journalist and anti-lynching crusader Ida B. Wells wrote in the 1890s that black lynching victims were accused of rape or attempted rape only about one-third of the time. The most prevalent accusation was murder or attempted murder, followed by a list of infractions that included verbal and physical aggression, spirited business competition and independence of mind. White lynch mobs formed to restore the perceived social order. [ "Who Was Lynched?"] by Nell Painter]

Murder became the common end of lynch mob "policing." Law-enforcement authorities sometimes participated directly or held victims in jail until a mob formed to carry out the murder.

In the view of social historian Michael J. Pfeifer, the United States had two legal systems running in parallel, a legal one in the courts and an illegal one. Both were racially polarized, and both operated to enforce white social dominance. [] , accessed]


There is much debate over the violent history of lynchings on the frontier, obscured by the mythology of the American Old West. Compared to the myths, real lynchings in the early years of the western United States did not focus as strongly on "rough and ready" crime prevention, and often shared many of the same racist and partisan political dimensions as lynchings in the South and Midwest. In unorganized territories or sparsely settled states, security was often provided only by a federal marshal who might, despite the appointment of deputies, be hours or even days away by horse.

Lynchings in the Old West were often carried out against accused criminals in custody. Lynching did not so much substitute for an absent legal system as to provide an alternative system that favored a particular social class or racial group. One historian writes, "Contrary to the popular understanding, early territorial lynching did not flow from an absence or distance of law enforcement but rather from the social instability of early communities and their contest for property, status, and the definition of social order."Pfeifer, Michael J. "Rough Justice: Lynching and American Society, 1874-1947", Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 2004]

The San Francisco Vigilance Movement, for example, has traditionally been portrayed as a positive response to government corruption and rampant crime. Revisionists have argued that it created more lawlessness than it eliminated. It also had a strongly nativist tinge, initially focused against the Irish and later evolving into mob violence against Chinese and Mexican immigrants.Fact|date=November 2007

During the California Gold Rush, at least 25,000 Mexicans had been longtime residents of California. The Treaty of 1848 expanded American territory by one-third. To settle the war, Mexico ceded all or parts of Arizona, California, Colorado, Kansas, New Mexico, Nevada, Oklahoma, Texas, Utah and Wyoming to the United States. In 1849, California became a state within the United States.

Many of the Mexicans who were native to what would become a state within the United States were experienced miners and had had great success mining gold in California. Their success aroused animosity by white prospectors who intimidated Mexican miners with the threat of violence and committed violence against some. Between 1848 and 1860, at least 163 Mexicans were lynched in California alone. [ [ The lynching of persons of Mexican origin or descent in the United States, 1848 to 1928 | Journal of Social History |Find Articles at ] ] One particularly infamous lynching occurred on July 5, 1851 when a Mexican woman named Josefa Segovia was lynched by a mob in Downieville, California. She was accused of killing a white man who had attempted to assault her after breaking into her home. [ [ Latinas: Area Studies Collections ] ]

Another well-documented episode in the history of the American West is the Johnson County War, a dispute over land use in Wyoming in the 1890s. Large-scale ranchers, with the complicity of local and federal Republican politicians, hired mercenary soldiers and assassins to lynch the small ranchers (mostly Democrats) who were their economic competitors and whom they portrayed as "cattle rustlers."

Reconstruction (1865-1877)

After the Civil War, lynching became particularly associated with the South and with the first Ku Klux Klan, which was founded in 1866.

The first heavy period of lynching in the South was between 1868 and 1871. White Democrats attacked black and white Republicans. [ Budiansky, Stephen: "The Bloody Shirt," Viking Penguin, 2008, passim] To prevent ratification of new constitutions, the opposition tried to harass and prevent people from voting. Failed terrorist attacks led to a massacre during the 1868 elections, with the systematic murder of about 1,300 voters across various southern states ranging from South Carolina to Arkansas.

After this partisan political violence had ended, lynchings in the South focused more on race than on partisan politics. They could be seen as a latter-day expression of the slave patrols, the bands of poor whites who policed the slaves and pursued escapees. The lynchers sometimes murdered their victims but sometimes whipped them to remind them of their former status as slaves.Dray, Philip."At the Hands of Persons Unknown: The Lynching of Black America", New York: Random House, 2002] White vigilantes often made nighttime raids of African American homes in order to confiscate firearms. Lynchings to prevent freedmen and their allies from voting and bearing arms can be seen as extralegal ways of enforcing the Black Codes and the previous system of social dominance. The 14th and 15th Amendments in 1868 and 1870 had invalidated the Black Codes.

Although some states took action against the Klan, the South needed federal help to deal with the escalating violence. President Ulysses S. Grant and Congress passed the Force Acts of 1870 and the Civil Rights Act of 1871, also known as the Ku Klux Klan Act, because it was passed in an effort to suppress the violence of the Klan. This enabled federal prosecution of crimes committed by groups such as the Ku Klux Klan, as well as use of federal troops to control violence. The administration began holding grand juries and prosecuting Klan members. In addition, it used martial law in some counties in South Carolina, where the Klan was the strongest. Under attack, the Klan dissipated. Vigorous federal action and the disappearance of the Klan had a strong effect in reducing the numbers of lynching.

In Mississippi, Louisiana and Florida especially, the mid to late-1870s were extremely violent years, as Democrats used "White Line" groups such as the White Camellia to terrorize, intimidate and assassinate African American and white Republicans in a drive to regain power. Insurgents targeted politically active African Americans and also loosed violence in general community intimidation. These were not really lynchings but paramilitary actions. Grant's desire to keep Ohio in the Republican aisle and his attorney general's maneuvering led to a failure to support the Mississippi governor with Federal troops. The Democrats' campaign of terror worked. In Yazoo County, for instance, with a Negro population of 12,000, only seven votes were cast for Republicans. In 1875 Democrats swept into power in the state legislature. [Nicholas Lemann, "Redemption: The Last Battle of the Civil War". New York: Farrar, Strauss and Giroux, 2005, pp.135-154]

Once Democrats regained power in Mississippi, Democrats in other states adopted the "Mississippi Plan" to control the election of 1876, using informal armed militias to assassinate political leaders, hunt down community members, intimidate and turn away voters, effectively suppressing African American suffrage and civil rights. In state after state, Democrats swept back to power. [Nicholas Lemann, "Redemption: The Last Battle of the Civil War". New York: Farrar, Strauss and Giroux, 2005, p.180] From 1868 to 1876, most years had 50-100 lynchings.

After the Democrats took over the Southern states, lynching deaths declined from 1877 to 1888, when the toll ranged from 1 to 17 victims per year.Fact|date=November 2007 White Democrats passed laws making voter registration more complicated, to strip black voters from the rolls.

Disfranchisement, 1877 to World War I

Following white Democrats' regaining political power in the late 1870s, legislators gradually increased restrictions on voting, chiefly through statute. From 1890 to 1908, most of the Southern states, starting with Mississippi, created new constitutions with further provisions: poll taxes, literacy and understanding tests, and increased residency requirements, that effectively disfranchised most blacks and many poor whites. Forcing them off voter registration lists also prevented them from serving on juries, whose members were limited to voters. Although challenges to such constitutions made their way to the Supreme Court in "Williams v. Mississippi" (1898) and "Giles v. Harris" (1903), the states' provisions were upheld.

Most lynchings during the late 1800s and early 20th century were of African Americans in the South. Of the 468 victims in Texas between 1885 and 1942, 339 were black, 77 white, 53 Hispanic, and 1 Indian. [ [ LYNCHING] , Texas State Historical Association] They reflected the tensions of labor and social changes, and the results of whites' organizing militias to regain power lost after the Civil War. They also were a result of long economic stress due to falling cotton prices through much of the 19th century, as well as financial depression in the 1890s.

The late 19th and early 20th century history of the Mississippi Delta showed both frontier influence and actions directed at repressing African Americans. After the Civil War, 90% of the Delta was still undeveloped. Both whites and tens of thousands of African Americans migrated there for a chance to buy land in the backcountry. It was frontier wilderness, heavily forested and without roads for years. Before the turn of the century, lynchings often took the form of frontier justice directed at transient workers as well as residents. Thousands of workers were brought in to do lumbering and work on levees. Whites were lynched at a rate 35.5% higher than their proportion in the population, most often accused of crimes against property (chiefly theft). During the Delta's frontier era, blacks were lynched at a rate lower than their proportion in the population, unlike in the rest of the South. They were most often accused of murder or attempted murder in half the cases, and rape in 15%. [John C. Willis, "Forgotten Time: The Yazoo-Mississippi Delta after the Civil War". Charlottesville: University of Virginia, 2000, pp.154-155]

There was a clear seasonal pattern to the lynchings, with the colder months being the deadliest. As noted, cotton prices fell during the 1880s and 1890s, increasing economic pressures. "From September through December, the cotton was picked, debts were revealed, and profits (or losses) realized... Whether concluding old contracts or discussing new arrangements, [landlords and tenants] frequently came into conflict in these months and sometimes fell to blows." [John C. Willis, "Forgotten Time: The Yazoo-Mississippi Delta after the Civil War". Charlottesville: University of Virginia, 2000, pp.154-156] During the winter, murder was most cited as a cause for lynching. After 1901, as economics shifted and more blacks became renters and sharecroppers in the Delta, only African Americans were lynched. The frequency increased from 1901 to 1908, after African Americans were disfranchised. "In the twentieth century Delta vigilantism finally became predictably joined to white supremacy." [John C. Willis, "Forgotten Time: The Yazoo-Mississippi Delta after the Civil War". Charlottesville: University of Virginia, 2000, p.157]

After increased immigration to the US in the late 19th century, Italian-Americans also became lynching targets, chiefly in the South. On March 14, 1891, eleven Italian-Americans were lynched in New Orleans after a jury acquitted them in the murder of a New Orleans police chief [ [] ] David Hennessy. The eleven were falsely accused of being associated with the Mafia. This incident was the largest mass lynching in U.S. history. [ [ Italian: Under Attack] ] A total of twenty Italians were lynched in the 1890s. Although most lynchings of Italian-Americans occurred in the South, Italians did not immigrate there in great numbers. Isolated lynchings of Italians also occurred in New York, Pennsylvania, and Colorado.

Particularly in the West, Chinese immigrants, East Indians, Native Americans and Mexicans were also lynching victims. The lynching of Mexicans and Mexican Americans in the Southwest was long overlooked in American history. Attention became focused on the South. The Tuskegee Institute, which kept the most complete records, noted the victims as simply black or white. Mexican, Chinese, and Native American lynching victims were recorded as white. [ [ The lynching of persons of Mexican origin or descent in the United States, 1848 to 1928 | Journal of Social History |Find Articles at ] ]

Researchers estimate 597 Mexicans were lynched between 1848 and 1928. Mexicans were lynched at a rate of 27.4 per 100,000 of population between 1880 and 1930. This statistic was second only to that of the African American community, which endured an average of 37.1 per 100,000 of population during that period. Between 1848 and 1879, Mexicans were lynched at an unprecedented rate of 473 per 100,000 of population. [ [ The lynching of persons of Mexican origin or descent in ] ]

Henry Smith, a troubled ex-slave, was one of the most famous lynched African Americans. He was lynched at Paris, Texas, in 1893 for allegedly killing Myrtle Vance, the three-year-old daughter of a Texas policeman, after the policeman had assaulted Smith. [ [ American Lynching] ] Smith was not tried in a court of law. A large crowd followed the lynching, as was common then, in the style of public executions. Henry Smith was fastened to a wooden platform, tortured for fifty minutes by red-hot iron brands, then finally burned alive while over 10,000 spectators cheered. [ [ Burned at stake.] A black man pays for town's outrage.]

Enforcing Jim Crow

After 1876, the frequency of lynching decreased somewhat as white Democrats regained political power throughout the South, but 1892 was a peak year. The threat of lynching was used to terrorize freedmen and whites alike to maintain re-asserted dominance by whites.Fact|date=June 2007. Southern Republicans in Congress had sought to protect black voting rights by using Federal troops for enforcement. A congressional deal to elect Rutherford B. Hayes as President in 1876 included a pledge to end Reconstruction in the South. The Redeemers, white Democrats who often included members of paramilitary groups such as White Cappers, White Camellia, and Ku Klux Klan, used terrorist violence and targeted assassinations to reduce the political power that black and white Republicans had gained during Reconstruction. Lynchings both supported the power reversal and were public demonstrations of white power.

Racial tensions had an economic base. In attempting to reconstruct the plantation economy, planters were anxious to control labor. They did not know how to work as managers rather than masters. In addition, agricultural depression was widespread and the price of cotton kept falling after the Civil War into the 1890s. There was a labor shortage in many parts of the Deep South, especially in the developing Mississippi Delta. Southern attempts to encourage immigrant labor didn't work as immigrants would leave field labor. Lynchings erupted when farmers tried to terrorize the laborers, especially when times came to settle and they couldn't pay wages, but tried to keep laborers from leaving.

More than 85 percent of the estimated 5,000 lynchings in the post-Civil War period occurred in the Southern states. 1892 was a peak year when 161 African Americans were lynched. The creation of the Jim Crow laws beginning in the 1890s completed the revival of white supremacy in the South. Terror and lynching were used to enforce both these formal laws and a variety of unwritten rules of conduct meant to assert white domination. In most years from 1889 to 1923, there were 50-100 lynchings annually across the South.

The ideology behind lynching, directly connected with denial of political and social eqality, was stated forthrightly by Benjamin Tillman - Governor of South Carolina and later a United States Senator:

"We of the South have never recognized the right of the negro to govern white men, and we never will. We have never believed him to be the equal of the white man, and we will not submit to his gratifying his lust on our wives and daughters without lynching him."cite news |first=Bob |last=Herbert |authorlink=Bob Herbert |title=The Blight That Is Still With Us |url= |publisher="The New York Times" |date=2008-01-22 |accessdate=2008-01-22 ]

Often victims were lynched by a small group of white vigilantes late at night. Sometimes, however, lynchings became mass spectacles with a circus-like atmosphere because they were intended to emphasize a majority power. Children often attended these public lynchings. A large lynching might be announced beforehand in the newspaper. There were cases in which a lynching was timed so that a newspaper reporter could make his deadline. Photographers sold photos for postcards to make extra money. The event was publicized so that the intended audience, African Americans and whites who might fear the Klan, was warned to stay in their places.

Fewer than 1 percent of lynch mob participants were ever convicted by local courts. By the late 19th century, trial juries in most of the southern United States were all white because African Americans had been disfranchised, and only registered voters could serve as jurors. Often juries never let the matter go past the inquest.

Such cases happened in the North as well. In 1892, a police officer in Port Jervis, New York, tried to stop the lynching of a black man who had been wrongfully accused of assaulting a white woman. The mob responded by putting the noose around the officer's neck as a way of scaring him. Although at the inquest the officer identified eight people who had participated in the lynching, including the former chief of police, the jury determined that the murder had been carried out "by person or persons unknown."Pfeifer, 2004, p. 35.]

Not all lynchings in the United States took place in the South. In Duluth, Minnesota, on June 15, 1920, three young African American travelers were lynched after having been jailed and accused of having raped a white woman. The alleged "motive" and action by a mob were consistent with the "community policing" model. A book titled "The Lynchings in Duluth" documented the events. [Fedo, Michael, "The Lynchings in Duluth". St. Paul, MN: Minnesota Historical Society Press, 2000. ISBN 087351386X]

Although the rhetoric surrounding lynchings included justifications about protecting white women, the actions basically erupted out attempts to maintain domination in a rapidly changing society and fears of social change. Fact|date=February 2008 Victims were the scapegoats for people's attempts to control agriculture, disasters like the boll weevil, labor and education.

According to an article, April 2, 2002, in "Time"::"There were lynchings in the Midwestern and Western states, mostly of Asians, Mexicans, Native Americans and even whites. But it was in the South that lynching evolved into a semiofficial institution of racial terror against blacks. All across the former Confederacy, blacks who were suspected of crimes against whites--or even "offenses" no greater than failing to step aside for a white man's car or protesting a lynching--were tortured, hanged and burned to death by the thousands. In a prefatory essay in "Without Sanctuary", historian Leon F. Litwack writes that between 1882 and 1968, at least 4,742 African Americans were murdered that way.

At the turn of the 20th century in the United States, lynching was photographic sport. People sent picture postcards of lynchings they had witnessed. The practice was so base, a contemporary writer for "Time" noted that even the Nazis "did not stoop to selling souvenirs of Auschwitz, but lynching scenes became a burgeoning subdepartment of the postcard industry. By 1908, the trade had grown so large, and the practice of sending postcards featuring the victims of mob murderers was so repugnant, that the U.S. Postmaster General banned the cards from the mails."Richard Lacayo, [,9171,42301,00.html "Blood At The Root"] , "Time", April 2, 2000]

In "Without Sanctuary", a book of lynching postcards collected by James Allen, Pullitzer Prize-winning historian Leon F. Litwack wrote::"The photographs stretch our credulity, even numb our minds and senses to the full extent of the horror, but they must be examined if we are to understand how normal men and women could live with, participate in, and defend such atrocities, even reinterpret them so they would not see themselves or be perceived as less than civilized. The men and women who tortured, dismembered, and murdered in this fashion understood perfectly well what they were doing and thought of themselves as perfectly normal human beings. Few had any ethical qualms about their actions. This was not the outburst of crazed men or uncontrolled barbarians but the triumph of a belief system that defined one people as less human than another. For the men and women who comprised these mobs, as for those who remained silent and indifferent or who provided scholarly or scientific explanations, this was the highest idealism in the service of their race. One has only to view the self-satisfied expressions on their faces as they posed beneath black people hanging from a rope or next to the charred remains of a Negro who had been burned to death. What is most disturbing about these scenes is the discovery that the perpetrators of the crimes were ordinary people, not so different from ourselves - merchants, farmers, laborers, machine operators, teachers, doctors, lawyers, policemen, students; they were family men and women, good churchgoing folk who came to believe that keeping black people in their place was nothing less than pest control, a way of combating an epidemic or virus that if not checked would be detrimental to the health and security of the community."


By the late 19th century, African Americans had the political experience and stature to begin to push back against lynchings and the disfranchisement and decrease in civil rights. In 1888, the Tuskegee Institute began to assiduously document lynchings, a practice it continued until 1968. Editorial by Laura Wexler, "A Sorry History: Why an Apology From the Senate Can't Make Amends," Washington Post, Sunday, June 19, 2005, page B1;]

In 1892 journalist Ida B. Wells-Barnett was shocked when three friends in Memphis, Tennessee were lynched because their grocery store competed successfully with a white-owned store. Outraged, Wells-Barnett began a global anti-lynching campaign that raised awareness of the social injustice. As a result of her efforts, Black women in the US became active in the anti-lynching crusade, often in the form of clubs which raised money to publicize the abuses. When the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) was formed in 1909, Wells became part of its multi-racial leadership and continued to be active against lynching.

In 1903 leading writer Charles Waddell Chesnutt published his article "The Disfranchisement of the Negro", detailing civil rights abuses and need for change in the South. Numerous writers appealed to the literate public. [SallyAnn H. Ferguson, ed., "Charles W. Chesnutt: Selected Writings". Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 2001, pp. 65-81]

In 1904 Mary Church Terrell, the first president of the National Association of Colored Women, published an article in the influential magazine "North American Review" to respond to Southerner Thomas Nelson Page. She took apart and refuted his attempted justification of lynching as a response to assaults on white women. Terrell showed how apologists like Page had tried to rationalize what were violent mob actions that were seldom based on true assaults. [ Angela Y. Davis,"Women, Race & Class". New York: Vintage Books, 1983, p.193]

Great Migration

In what can be seen as multiple acts of resistance, hundreds of thousands of African Americans left the South, especially from 1910-1940, seeking jobs and better lives in industrial cities of the North and Midwest, in a movement that was called the Great Migration. They refused to live under the rules of segregation and continual threat of violence, and many secured better educations and futures for themselves and their children, while adapting to the drastically different requirements of industrial cities. Northern industries such as the Pennsylvania Railroad and others, and stockyards and meatpacking plants in Chicago and Omaha, vigorously recruited southern workers. For instance, ten thousand men were hired from Florida and Georgia by 1923 by the Pennsylvania Railroad to work at their expanding yards and tracks. [ [ Maxine D. Rogers, Larry E. Rivers, David R. Colburn, R. Tom Dye, and William W. Rogers, "Documented History of the Incident Which Occurred at Rosewood, Florida in January 1923"] , Dec. 1993, accessed 28 Mar 2008]

Federal action limited by Solid South

President Theodore Roosevelt made public statements against lynching in 1903, following George White's death in Delaware, and in his sixth annual State of the Union message on December 4, 1906. When Roosevelt suggested that lynching was taking place in the Philippines, southern senators (all white Democrats) demonstrated power by a filibuster in 1902 during review of the "Philippines Bill". In 1903 Roosevelt refrained from commenting on lynching during his Southern political campaigns.

Despite concerns expressed by some northern Congressmen, Congress had not moved quickly enough to strip the South of seats as the states disfranchised black voters. The result was a "Solid South" with the number of representatives (apportionment) based on its total population, but with only whites represented in Congress, essentially doubling the power of white southern Democrats.

Roosevelt did make public a letter he wrote to Governor Winfield T. Durbin of Indiana, in which he said:

::: cquote|My Dear Governor Durbin, ...permit me to thank you as an American citizen for the admirable way in which you have vindicated the majesty of the law by your recent action in reference to lynching... All thoughtful men... must feel the gravest alarm over the growth of lynching in this country, and especially over the peculiarly hideous forms so often taken by mob violence when colored men are the victims – on which occasions the mob seems to lay more weight, not on the crime but on the color of the criminal... There are certain hideous sights which when once seen can never be wholly erased from the mental retina. The mere fact of having seen them implies degradation... Whoever in any part of our country has ever taken part in lawlessly putting to death a criminal by the dreadful torture of fire must forever after have the awful spectacle of his own handiwork seared into his brain and soul. He can never again be the same man.

Durbin had successfully used the National Guard to disperse the lynchers. Further, Durbin publicly declared that the accused murderer—an African American man—was entitled to a fair trial. Theodore Roosevelt's efforts cost him political support among white people, especially in the South. In addition, threats against him increased so that the Secret Service increased the size of his detail.Morris, Edmund; Theodore Rex; pp. 110-11, 246-49, 250, 258-59, 261-62, 472.]

World War I to World War II


African-American writers used their talents in numerous ways to publicize and protest against lynching. In 1914, Angelina Weld Grimké had already written her play "Rachel" to address racial violence. It was produced in 1916. In 1915, W.E.B. Du Bois, noted scholar and head of the recently formed NAACP, called for more black-authored plays.

African-American women playwrights were strong in responding. They wrote ten of the fourteen anti-lynching plays produced between 1916 and 1935. The NAACP set up a Drama Committee to encourage such work. In addition, Howard University, the leading historically black college, established a theater department in 1920 to encourage African-American dramatists. Starting in 1924, the NAACP's major publications "Crisis" and "Opportunity" sponsored contests to encourage black literary production. [Barbara McCaskill and Caroline Gebard, ed., "Post-Bellum, Pre-Harlem: African American Literature and Culture, 1877-1919. New York: New York University Press, 2006, pp. 210-212]

New Klan

("Main article" Ku Klux Klan)

In 1915, three events highlighted racial and social tensions: the trial and lynching of Leo Frank, the release of the film "The Birth of a Nation", and the revival of the Ku Klux Klan.

The Klan revived and grew because of people's anxieties and fear about the rapid pace of change. Both white and black rural migrants were moving into rapidly industrializing cities of the South. Many Southern white and African-American migrants also moved North in the Great Migration, adding to greatly increased immigration from southern and eastern Europe in major industrial cities of the Midwest and West. The Klan grew rapidly and became most successful and strongest in those cities that had a rapid pace of growth from 1910–1930, such as Atlanta, Birmingham, Dallas, Detroit, Indianapolis, Chicago, Portland, Oregon; and Denver, Colorado. It reached a peak of membership and influence about 1925. In some cities, leaders' actions to publish names of Klan members provided enough publicity to sharply reduce membership. [Kenneth T. Jackson, "The Ku Klux Klan in the City, 1915-1930." New York: Oxford University Press, 1967; reprint, Chicago: Elephant Paperback, 1992, p.241]

The 1915 murder near Atlanta, Georgia of factory manager Leo Frank, an American Jew, was one of the more notorious lynchings of a white man. Sensational newspaper accounts stirred up anger about Frank, charged in the murder of Mary Phagan, a girl employed by his factory. He was convicted of murder after a flawed trial in Georgia. His appeals failed. Supreme Court justice Oliver Wendell Holmes' dissent condemned the intimidation of the jury as failing to provide due process of law. After the governor commuted Frank's sentence to life imprisonment, a mob calling itself the Knights of Mary Phagan kidnapped Frank from the prison farm, and lynched him.

Georgia politician and publisher Tom Watson used sensational coverage of the Frank trial to create power for himself. By playing on people's anxieties, he also built support for revival of the Ku Klux Klan. The new Klan was inaugurated in 1915 at a mountaintop meeting near Atlanta, and was comprised mostly of members of the Knights of Mary Phagan. D. W. Griffith's 1915 film "The Birth of a Nation" glorified the original Klan and garnered much publicity.

Continuing Resistance

("Main article" Tulsa Race Riot)

The NAACP mounted a strong nationwide campaign of protests and public education against the movie "The Birth of a Nation". As a result, some city governments prohibited release of the film.

In addition, the NAACP publicized production and helped create audiences for the 1919 releases "The Birth of a Race" and "Within Our Gates", African-American directed films that presented more positive images of blacks.

African-American resistance against lynching carried substantial risks. In 1921 in Tulsa, Oklahoma, a group of African American citizens attempted to stop a lynch mob from taking 19-year-old assault suspect Dick Rowland out of jail. In a scuffle between a white man and an armed African-American veteran, the white man was killed. Whites retaliated by rioting, during which they burned 1,256 homes and as many as 200 businesses in the segregated Greenwood district. Confirmed dead were 39 people: 26 African Americans and 13 whites. Recent investigations suggest the number of African American deaths may have been much higher. Dick Rowland was saved, however, and was later exonerated.

The growing networks of African-American women's club groups were instrumental in raising funds to support the NAACP public education and lobbying campaigns. They also built community organizations. In 1922 Mary Talbert headed the Anti-Lynching Crusade, to create an integrated women's movement against lynching. [Angela Y. Davis,"Women, Race & Class". New York: Vintage Books, 1983, p.193] It was affiliated with the NAACP, which mounted a multi-faceted campaign. For years the NAACP used petition drives, letters to newspapers, articles, posters, lobbying Congress, and marches to protest the abuses in the South and keep the issue before the public.

While the second KKK grew rapidly in cities undergoing major change and achieved some political power, many state and city leaders, including white religious leaders such as Reinhold Niebuhr in Detroit, acted strongly and spoke out publicly against the organization. Some anti-Klan groups published members' names and quickly reduced the energy in their efforts. As a result, in most areas, after 1925 KKK membership and organizations declined steeply and rapidly. Cities passed laws against wearing of masks, and otherwise acted against the KKK. [Kenneth T. Jackson, "The Ku Klux Klan in the City, 1915-1930". Chicago: Elephant Paperback , 1992]

In 1930 Southern white women responded in large numbers to the leadership of Jessie Daniel Ames in forming the Association of Southern Women for the Prevention of Lynching. She and her co-founders obtained the signatures of 40,000 women to their pledge against lynching and for a change in the South. The pledge included the statement:

"In light of the facts we dare no longer to ...allow those bent upon personal revenge and savagery to commit acts of violence and lawlessness in the name of women."
Despite physical threats and hostile opposition, the women leaders persisted with petition drives, letter campaigns, meetings and demonstrations to highlight the issues. [Angela Y. Davis,"Women, Race & Class". New York: Vintage Books, 1983, pp.194-195] By the 1930s the number of lynchings had dropped to about ten per year in Southern states.

In the 1930s, communist organizations, including a legal defense organization called the International Labor Defense (ILD), organized support to stop lynching. (see The Communist Party and African-Americans). The ILD defended the Scottsboro Boys, as well as three black men accused of rape in Tuscaloosa in 1933. In the Tuscaloosa case, two defendants were lynched under circumstances that suggested police complicity. The ILD lawyers themselves narrowly escaped lynching. The ILD lawyers aroused passionate hatred among many Southerners because they were considered to be interfering with local affairs. In a remark to an investigator, a white Tuscaloosan was quoted, "For New York Jews to butt in and spread communistic ideas is too much."

Federal Action and southern resistance

Anti-lynching advocates such as Mary McLeod Bethune and Walter Francis White campaigned for Franklin D. Roosevelt as President in 1932. They hoped he would lend public support to their efforts against lynching. Senators Robert F. Wagner and Edward P. Costigan drafted the Costigan-Wagner bill to require local authorities to protect prisoners from lynch mobs. It proposed to make lynching a Federal crime and thus take it out of state administration.

Southern Senators continued to hold a deadlock on Congress. Due to the Southern Democrats' disfranchisement of African Americans in Southern states at the turn of the century, Southern whites for decades had nearly double the representation in Congress than they could have earned by their own population. Southern states had Congressional representation based on total population, but essentially only whites could vote and only their issues were supported. African Americans had not one person who represented them.

Due to seniority achieved through one-party rule in their region, Southern Democrats controlled many important committees. Southern Democrats consistently opposed any legislation related to reducing lynching or putting it under Federal oversight. As a result, Southern white Democrats were a formidable power in Congress until the 1960s.

In the 1930s, virtually all Southern senators blocked the proposed Wagner-Costigan bill. Southern senators used a filibuster to prevent a vote on the bill. However, the legislation did herald a change; there were 18 lynchings of blacks in the South in 1935, but that number fell to eight in 1936, and to two in 1939.

A lynching in Miami, Florida, changed the political climate in Washington. On July 19, 1935, Rubin Stacy, a homeless African-American tenant farmer, knocked on doors begging for food. After resident complaints, Dade County deputies took Stacy into custody. While he was in custody, a lynch mob took Stacy out of the jail and murdered him. Although the faces of his murderers could be seen in a photo taken at the lynching site, the state did not prosecute the murder of Rubin Stacy. []

Stacy's murder galvanized anti-lynching activists, but President Franklin Roosevelt did not support the federal anti-lynching bill. He feared that support would cost him Southern votes in the 1936 election. He believed that he could accomplish more for more people by getting re-elected.

In 1939 Roosevelt created the Civil Rights Section of the Justice Department. It started prosecutions to combat lynching but failed to win any convictions until 1946.Wexler, Laura. "Fire in a Canebrake: The Last Mass Lynching in America", New York: Scribner, 2003]

World War II to present

econd Great Migration

The industrial buildup to WWII acted as a "pull" factor in the wave of the Second Great Migration starting in 1940 and lasting until 1970. Altogether in the first half of the 20th century, 6.5 million of the most ambitious and energetic African Americans migrated out of the South (former Confederacy) to leave lynchings and segregation behind, improve their lives and get better educations for their children. Unlike the first round, composed chiefly of rural farm workers, the second wave included more educated workers and their families who were already living in southern cities and towns. In this migration, many migrated west from Louisiana, Mississippi and Texas to California in addition to northern and midwestern cities, as defense industries recruited thousands to good-paying skilled jobs. They settled in Los Angeles, San Francisco and Oakland.

Federal action

After World War II, the federal government began to take its first productive actions against lynching.

In 1946, the Civil Rights Section of the Justice Department gained its first successful prosecution against a lyncher. Florida constable Tom Crews was sentenced to a $1,000 fine and one year in prison for civil rights violations in the killing of an African-American farm worker.

In 1946, a mob of white men shot and killed two young African-American couples near Moore's Ford Bridge in Walton County, Georgia 60 miles east of Atlanta. This lynching of the four young sharecroppers, one a WWII veteran, shocked the nation and was a key factor in President Harry Truman's making civil rights a priority. Although the FBI was involved in investigating the crime, they were unable to prosecute. It was the last mass lynching.Wexler, 2003.]

In 1947, the Truman Administration published a report titled "To Secure These Rights", which advocated making lynching a federal crime, among other civil rights reforms. Southern senators and congressmen continued to block such legislation.

In 1924 Truman had paid a $10 membership fee to join the Ku Klux Klan (when it promoted itself as a fraternal organization). When a Klan officer demanded that Truman pledge not to hire any Catholics if he was reelected as county judge, however, Truman refused. Truman had commanded many men who were Catholic in World War I and personally knew their worth. His membership fee was returned and he never joined the KKK.Wade, 1987, p. 196, gave a similar account, but suggested that the meeting was a regular Klan one. An interview with Truman's friend Hinde at the Truman Library's web site ( [] , retrieved June 26, 2005) portrayed the meeting one-on-one at the Hotel Baltimore with a Klan organizer named Jones. Truman's biography, written by his daughter Margaret(Truman, 1973), agreed with Hinde's version but did not mention the $10 initiation fee. The biography included a copy of a telegram from O.L. Chrisman stating that reporters from the Hearst papers had questioned him about Truman's past with the Klan. He said he had seen Truman at a Klan meeting, but that "if he ever became a member of the Klan I did not know it."] In the 1940s the Klan openly criticized Truman for his efforts in promoting civil rights.

Attention to the Moore's Ford Bridge case was reopened in 1992 when a witness Clinton Adams testified to the FBI on events which he had seen as a 10-year-old child. This was given major coverage by the "Atlanta Constitution", and five years later, by other papers. In 1997, a biracial Moore's Ford Bridge Memorial Committee was formed to recognize these deaths and work for racial reconciliation. Among other activities, they restored cemeteries where victims were buried, had tombstones erected, and have established education scholarships in memory of the people who died. [ [ Moore's Ford Memorial Committee] , accessed 22 Aug 2008] In 2001 then-Gov. Roy Barnes reopened the investigation with the Georgia Bureau of Investigation.

In April 2006, the FBI confirmed that it had an investigation in progress relating to the 1946 Moore's Ford case.cite news |first=Greg, Associated Press |last=Bluestein |title=FBI reexamines '46 lynchings by white mob |date=April 14, 2006 |publisher=Boston Globe |url= ]

The investigation was continuing in 2008 with material recovered from a Walton County farm.

Lynching and the Cold War

With the beginning of the Cold War after WWII, the Soviet Union criticized the United States for the frequency of lynchings of black people. In a meeting with President Harry Truman in 1946, Paul Robeson urged him to take action against lynching. Soon afterward the mainstream white press attacked Robeson for his sympathies toward the Soviet Union.

In 1951, the Civil Rights Congress (CRC) spoke to the United Nations in a presentation entitled "We Charge Genocide", in which they argued that because the US government failed to act against lynching, it was guilty of genocide under Article II of the UN Genocide Convention.

In the postwar years, some U.S. politicians and appointed officials appeared more worried about possible communist connections among anti-lynching groups than about the lynching crimes. The FBI branded Albert Einstein a communist sympathizer for joining Paul Robeson's American Crusade Against Lynching.Fred Jerome, "The Einstein File", St. Martin's Press, 2000;] J. Edgar Hoover, head of the FBI for decades, directed more attention to investigations of civil rights groups for communist connections than to investigating Ku Klux Klan activities against them.

Civil Rights Movement

By the 1950s, the Civil Rights Movement was gaining momentum. A 1955 case that sparked public outrage about injustice was that of Emmett Till, a fourteen-year-old boy from Chicago. Spending the summer with relatives in Money, Mississippi, Till was attacked and killed for having crossed a social boundary (one he wouldn't know since he didn't live there) when he allegedly whistled at a white woman. Till had been beaten and his eye had been gouged out. He was shot through the head and thrown into the Tallahatchie River. A 75-pound fan was tied around his neck with barbed wire to weigh down his body. His mother insisted on a public funeral with the casket open. She allowed people to take photographs because she wanted people to see how badly Till's body had been disfigured. News photographs of Till's mutilated corpse circulated around the country, and drew intense public reaction. Some reports said that up to 50,000 people viewed the body. Two defendants were tried, but acquitted. People in other parts of the country were horrified that a boy could have been killed for such an event.

The Civil Rights Movement attracted students to the South in the 1960s from all over the country to work on voter registration and other issues. The intervention of people from outside the communities and threat of social change aroused fear and resentment among many whites. In June 1964, three civil rights workers disappeared in Neshoba County, Mississippi. They had been investigating the arson of a black church being used as a "Freedom School." Six weeks later their bodies were found in a partially constructed dam near Philadelphia, Mississippi. Michael Schwerner and Andrew Goodman of New York, and James Chaney of Meridian, Mississippi had been members of the Congress of Racial Equality. They had been dedicated to non-violent direct action against racial discrimination.

The US prosecuted 18 men with a Ku Klux Klan conspiracy to deprive the victims of their civil rights under 19th c. Federal law, in order to conduct the trial in Federal court. Seven men were convicted but received light sentences. Two men were released because of a deadlocked jury. The remainder were acquitted. In 2005, 80-year-old Edgar Ray Killen, one of the men who earlier went free, was convicted in a new trial of manslaughter for the killings and sentenced to 60 years in prison.

Because of J. Edgar Hoover's and others' hostility to the Civil Rights Movement, agents of the U.S. FBI resorted to outright lying to smear civil rights workers and other opponents of lynching. For example, the FBI spread false information in the press about lynching victim Viola Liuzzo, who was murdered in 1965 in Alabama. The FBI said Liuzzo had been a member of the Communist Party, had abandoned her five children, and was involved in sexual relationships with African Americans in the movement.Detroit News, September 30, 2004;]

After the Civil Rights Movement

Although lynchings became rare following the civil rights movement and changing social mores, they have occurred. In 1981, two KKK members in Alabama randomly picked out a 19-year-old black man, Michael Donald, and murdered him. This was to retaliate for a jury's acquittal of a black man accused of murdering a police officer. The Klansmen were caught, prosecuted, and convicted. A $7 million judgment in a subsequent civil suit against the Klan bankrupted the local subgroup, the United Klans of America. [] , retrieved June 26, 2005.]

In 1998, Shawn Allen Berry, Lawrence Russel Brewer, and ex-convict John William King murdered James Byrd, Jr. in Jasper, Texas. Byrd was a 49-year-old father of three, who had accepted an early-morning ride home with the three men. They arbitrarily attacked him and dragged him to his death behind their truck. [ [ CNN:Dragging death] ] The three men dumped their victim's mutilated remains in the town's segregated African-American cemetery and then went to a barbecue. [ [ Texas Observer] ] Local authorities immediately treated the murder as a hate crime and requested FBI assistance. The murderers (who turned out to be members of a white supremacist prison gang) were caught and stood trial. Brewer and King were sentenced to death. Berry received life in prison.

On June 13, 2005, the United States Senate formally apologized for its failure in previous decades to enact a Federal anti-lynching law. Earlier attempts to pass such legislation had been defeated by filibusters by powerful Southern senators. Prior to the vote, Louisiana Senator Mary Landrieu noted, "There may be no other injustice in American history for which the Senate so uniquely bears responsibility."Washington Post, June 14, 2005, page A12. [] , retrieved June 26, 2005.] The resolution was passed on a voice vote with 80 senators cosponsoring. The resolution expressed "the deepest sympathies and most solemn regrets of the Senate to the descendants of victims of lynching, the ancestors of whom were deprived of life, human dignity and the constitutional protections accorded all citizens of the United States."


Tuskegee Institute, now Tuskegee University, is recognized as the official expert that has documented lynchings since 1882. It has defined conditions that constitute a recognized lynching: :"There must be legal evidence that a person was "killed". That person must have met death "illegally". A group of "three or more persons" must have participated in the killing. The group must have acted under the "pretext of service to Justice, Race, or Tradition"."Tuskegee remains the single complete source of statistics and records on this crime since 1882, and is the source for all other compiled statistics. As of 1959, which was the last time that their annual Lynch Report was published, a total of 4,733 persons had died as a result of lynching since 1882. To quote the report, :"Except for 1955, when three lynchings were reported in Mississippi, none has been recorded at Tuskegee since 1951. In 1945, 1947, and 1951, only one case per year was reported. The most recent case reported by the institute as a lynching was that of Emmett Till, 14, a Negro who was beaten, shot to death, and thrown into a river at Greenwood, Mississippi on August 28, 1955... For a period of 65 years ending in 1947, at least one lynching was reported each year. The most for any year was 231 in 1892. From 1882 to 1901, lynchings averaged more than 150 a year. Since 1924, lynchings have been in a marked decline, never more than 30 cases, which occurred in 1926....""1959 Tuskegee Institute Lynch Report", "Montgomery Advertiser"; April 26, 1959, re-printed in "100 Years Of Lynching by Ralph Ginzburg (1962, 1988).]

The following graph gives the number of lynchings and racially motivated murders in each decade from 1865 to 1965. Data for 1865–1869 and 1960-1965 are partial compiled from [] , retrieved June 26, 2005]

The same source gives the following statistics for the period from 1882 to 1951. Eighty-eight percent of victims were black and 10% were white. Fifty-nine percent of the lynchings occurred in the Southern states of Kentucky (neutral in the Civil War), North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, and Florida. Lynching was less frequent in the West and Midwest but was virtually nonexistent in the Northeast, except for isolated instances.

The most common reasons given by mobs for the lynchings were murder and rape. As documented by Ida B. Wells, such charges were often pretexts for lynching blacks who violated Jim Crow etiquette or engaged in economic competition with whites. Other common reasons given included arson, theft, assault, and robbery; sexual transgressions (miscegenation, adultery, cohabitation); "race prejudice," "race hatred," "racial disturbance;" informing on others; "threats against whites;" and violations of the color line ("attending white girl", "proposals to white woman").

Tuskegee's method of categorizing most lynching victims as either black or white in publications and data summaries meant that the mistreatment of some minority and immigrant groups was obscured. In the West, for instance, Mexican, Native Americans, and Chinese were more frequent targets of lynchings than African Americans, but their deaths were included among those of whites. Similarly, although Italian immigrants were the focus of violence in Louisiana when they started arriving in greater numbers, their deaths were not identified separately. In earlier years, whites who were subject to lynching were often targeted because of suspected political activities or support of freedmen, but they were generally considered members of the community in a way new immigrants were not. [ [ The lynching of persons of Mexican origin or descent in the United States, 1848 to 1928 | "Journal of Social History" |Find Articles at ] ]

Popular culture

Famous fictional treatments

*In Owen Wister's "The Virginian", a 1902 seminal novel that helped create the genre of Western novels in the U.S., dealt with a fictional treatment of the Johnson County War and frontier lynchings in the West.

*Angelina Weld Grimké's "Rachel" was the first play about the toll of racial violence in African-American families, written in 1914 and produced in 1916.

*Following the commercial and critical success of "Birth of a Nation", African-American director and writer Oscar Micheaux responded in 1919 with the film "Within Our Gates". The climax of the film is the lynching of a black family after one member of the family is wrongly accused of murder. While the film was a commercial failure at the time and was technically crude, it is considered historically significant and was selected for preservation in the National Film Registry.

*Also in 1919 Emmett J. Scott produced the film "The Birth of the Race", another African-American response to "The Birth of a Nation". It had considerable success in the African-American community.

*In "Fury" (1936), German expatriate Fritz Lang depicts a lynch mob hanging innocent men, apparently modeled on a 1933 lynching in San Jose, California, that was captured on newsreel footage and in which Governor of California James Rolph refused to intervene.

*In Walter Van Tilburg Clark's 1940 "The Ox-Bow Incident", two drifters are drawn into a posse formed to find the murderer of a local man. After suspicion centered on three innocent cattle rustlers, they were lynched, an event that deeply affected the drifters. The novel was filmed in 1943 as a wartime defense of American values versus the characterization of Nazi Germany as mob rule.

*Regina M. Anderson's "Climbing Jacob's Ladder" was a play about a lynching performed by the Krigwa Players (later called the Negro Experimental Theater), a Harlem theater company.

*Lynd Ward's 1932 book "Wild Pilgrimage" (printed in woodblock prints, with no text) includes three prints of the lynching of several black men.

*In Irving Berlin's 1933 musical "As Thousands Cheer", a ballad about lynching, "Supper Time" was introduced by Ethel Waters. Waters wrote in her 1951 autobiography, "His Eye Was on the Sparrow", "if one song could tell the story of an entire race, that was it."

*In Harper Lee's 1960 novel "To Kill a Mockingbird", Tom Robinson, a black man wrongfully accused of rape, narrowly escapes lynching because of his lawyer's bravery and the disarmingly innocent behavior of the lawyer's daughter. The lawyer tells his daughter that he is not angry at the mob, because once the feeling of mob violence gets into people, they do not act normally. Robinson is later killed while attempting to escape from prison, after having been wrongfully convicted. A movie was made in 1962.

*The 1968 film "Hang 'Em High" stars Clint Eastwood.

*The 1988 film "Mississippi Burning" includes a very brutal, heartbreaking, but mostly accurate depiction of a man being lynched.

*Peter Matthiessen depicted several lynchings in his "Killing Mr. Watson" trilogy (first volume published in 1990). [ [ Killing Mr. Watson, New York "Times" review] ]

*"Vendetta", a 1999 HBO film starring Christopher Walken and directed by Nicholas Meyer, is based on actual events that took place in New Orleans in 1891. The acquittal of 18 Italian-American men falsely accused of the murder of police chief David Hennessy led to 11 of them being shot or hung in one of the largest mass lynchings in American history.

*Jason Robert Brown's musical "Parade" tells the story of Leo Frank.

"Strange Fruit"

Among artistic works that grappled with lynching was the song "Strange Fruit", recorded by Billie Holiday and written (as a poem) by Abel Meeropol in 1939.

Southern trees bear a strange fruit,
Blood on the leaves and blood at the root,
Black bodies swinging in the Southern breeze,
Strange fruit hanging from the poplar trees.

Although Holiday's regular label of Columbia declined, Holiday recorded it with Commodore. The song became identified with her and was one of her most popular ones. The song became an anthem for the anti-lynching movement. It also contributed to activism of the American civil rights movement. A documentary about lynching, entitled " [ Strange Fruit] " and produced by Public Broadcasting Service, aired on U.S. television.


For most of the history of the United States, lynching was rarely prosecuted, as the same people who would have had to prosecute were generally on the side of the action. When it was prosecuted, it was under state murder statutes. In one example in 1907-09, the U.S. Supreme Court tried its only criminal case in history, ussc|203|563|U.S. v. Sheriff Shipp. Shipp was found guilty of criminal contempt for lynching Ed Johnson in Chattanooga, Tennessee.

Starting in 1909, legislators introduced more than 200 bills to make lynching a Federal crime, but they failed to pass, chiefly because of Southern legislators' opposition. Because Southern states had effectively disfranchised African Americans at the turn of the century, the Southern states controlled nearly double the Congressional representation that white citizens alone would have been entitled to. They comprised a powerful voting block for decades.

Under the Franklin D. Roosevelt Administration, the Civil Rights Section of the Justice Department tried, but failed, to prosecute lynchers under Reconstruction-era civil rights laws. The first successful Federal prosecution of a lyncher for a civil rights violation was in 1946. By that time, the era of lynchings as a common occurrence had ended.

Many states now have specific anti-lynching statutes. California, for example, defines lynching, punishable by 2-4 years in prison, as "the taking by means of a riot of any person from the lawful custody of any peace officer," with the crime of "riot" defined as two or more people using violence or the threat of violence. A lyncher could thus be prosecuted for several crimes arising from the same action, e.g., riot, lynching, and murder. Although lynching in the historic sense is virtually nonexistent today, the lynching statutes are sometimes used in cases where several people try to wrest a suspect from the hands of police in order to help him escape, as alleged in a July 9, 2005, violent attack on a police officer in San Francisco. [] , retrieved July 13, 2005.]

South Carolina law defines second-degree lynching as " [a] ny act of violence inflicted by a mob upon the body of another person and from which death does not result shall constitute the crime of lynching in the second degree and shall be a felony. Any person found guilty of lynching in the second degree shall be confined at hard labor in the State Penitentiary for a term not exceeding twenty years nor less than three years, at the discretion of the presiding judge."South Carolina Code of Laws section 16-3-220 "Lynching in the second degree", retrieved October 27, 2007.] In 2006, five white teenagers were given various sentences for the second-degree lynching of a young black man in South Carolina. Guilty:Teens enter pleas in lynching case, retrieved June 29, 2007.]

See also

* Lynching
* Disfranchisement after the Civil War
* Hanging judges such as Isaac Parker
* Mass racial violence in the United States
* Domestic terrorism
* Tarring and feathering
* New York Draft Riots of 1863.
* Lynching of Sherriff Henry Plummer in 1864.
* Lynching of the Reno Brothers Gang of Indiana in 1868.
* Lynching of William L. Brooks in 1874.
* Lynching of Joe Coe in 1891.
* Lynching of Leo Frank in 1913.
* Lynchings of I.W.W. members Frank Little in 1917 and Wesley Everest in 1919.
* East St. Louis Riot of 1917.
* Omaha Race Riot of 1919
* Tulsa Race Riot of 1921.
* Rosewood, Florida race riot of 1923.
* Lynching of Abram Smith & Thomas Shipp in 1930.
* "Lynching" by gunshot in Massie Case of 1932.
* Lynching of Mack Charles Parker in 1959.
* Lynching of Michael Donald in 1981
*"And you are lynching Negroes?" Stereotypical Soviet Union response to United States allegations of human-rights violations in the Soviet Union.


Books and references

* Allen, James, Hilton Als, John Lewis, and Leon F. Litwack, "Without Sanctuary: Lynching Photography in America" (Twin Palms Publishers: 2000) ISBN-13: 978-0944092699
* Brundage, William Fitzhugh, "Lynching in the New South: Georgia and Virginia, 1880-1930". Urbana, IL: University of Illinois Press, 1993.
* Curriden, Mark and Leroy Phillips, "Contempt of Court: The Turn-of-the-Century Lynching That Launched a Hundred Years of Federalism", ISBN 978-0385720823
* Ginzburg, Ralph. "100 Years Of Lynching", Baltimore: Black Classic Press, 1962, 1988.
* Markovitz, Jonathan, "Legacies of Lynching: Racial Violence and Memory", Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2004.
* Newton, Michael and Judy Ann Newton, "Racial and Religious Violence in America: A Chronology". N.Y.: Garland Publishing, Inc., 1991
* Smith, Tom. The Crescent City Lynchings: The Murder of Chief Hennessy, the New Orleans "Mafia" Trials, and the Parish Prison Mob []
* "Thirty Years of Lynching in the United States, 1889-1918" New York City: Arno Press, 1969.
* Thompson, E.P. "Customs in Common: Studies in Traditional Popular Culture". New York: The New Press, 1993.
* Tolnay, Stewart E., and Beck, E.M. "A Festival of Violence: An Analysis of Southern Lynchings, 1882-1930", Urbana and Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 1992.
* Truman, Margaret. "Harry S. Truman". New York: William Morrow and Co., 1973.
* Wade, Wyn Craig. "The Fiery Cross: The Ku Klux Klan in America". New York: Simon and Schuster, 1987.
* Wright, George C. "Racial Violence in Kentucky 1865-1940" by George C. Wright. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1990.
* Wyatt-Brown, Bertram. "Southern Honor: Ethics & Behavior in the Old South". New York: Oxoford University Press, 1982.
* Zinn, Howard. "Voices of a People's History of the United States". New York: Seven Stories Press, 2004.

External links

* [ "Without Sanctuary: Lynching Photography in America"] website
* [ A review of "Without Sanctuary: Lynching Photography in America", James Allen et al.]
* [ Lynching in the United States (photos)]
* [ Houghton Mifflin: The Reader's Companion to American History - Lynching]
* [ Origin of the word Lynch]
* [ Lynchings in the State of Arkansas]
* [ Lynchings in the state of Georgia]
* [ Lynchings in the state of Iowa]
* [ Lynchings in the State of Kansas] {Copyrigthed-reference only}
* [ Lynchings in the State of Missouri]
* [ Lynchings in the State of New York]
* [ The 1856 Committee of Vigilance] - A treatment of the San Francisco vigilante movement, sympathetic to the vigilantes.
* [ The San Francisco Committee of Vigilance of 1851, and the San Francisco Committee of Vigilance of 1856] - an opposing perspective
* [ American Lynching] - web site for a documentary; links, bibliographical information, images
* [ Lynching calendar 1865-1965]
* [ 1868 Lynching of Steve Long and Moyer brothers Laramie City, Wyoming]
* 1884 [ Lynching of John Heath]
* [ 1888 {1889?] Lynching, Orange Texas] {related website at [ reference only] }
* [ Art in response to lynching of Mary Turner in 1919] .
* [ Lynching of Will Brown in Omaha Race Riot of 1919] . (Graphic)
* [ Commission on Interracial Cooperation]
* [ "Lynch Law"—An American Community Enigma", Henry A. Rhodes]
* [ "The lynching of persons of Mexican origin or descent in the United States, 1848 to 1928", William D. Carrigan]
* [ A Texas lynching report between 1848 and 1850] .

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