White Terrorism and Lynching


Equal Justice Institute: Terror Lynching in America


Equal Justice Institute: Lynching in America

Lynching in America: Confronting the Legacy of Racial Terror documents EJI’s multi-year investigation into lynching in twelve Southern states during the period between Reconstruction and World War II. EJI researchers documented 4075 racial terror lynchings of African Americans in Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, and Virginia between 1877 and 1950 – at least 800 more lynchings of black people in these states than previously reported in the most comprehensive work done on lynching to date.

Voicing the Violence: Reflection on Lynching Memorial

It’s been a year since The National Memorial for Peace and Justice opened in Montgomery. Since then, nearly half a million people have visited. In a moving tribute, Reckon’s Starr Civil Dunigan reflects on why it’s important we remember those lynched by mobs in Alabama and around the country.


Table of Contents

Terrorism During Slavery
Rise of White Vigilante Groups
Racial Terror Lynchings
Types of Lynching
Non-Black Lynching
White Sexual Terrorism
Anti-Lynching Movement
Capital Punishment and the Justice System
The Myth of Black Criminality
The ‘Great Migration’ Was About Racial Terror, Not Jobs
Legacy of Lynching
Equal Justice Institute: Lynching Report and Memorial

Terrorism During Slavery

Violence and the threat of violence controlled the institution of slavery

  • Treatment of Slaves
    • Treatment of slaves in US varied but was generally brutal and degrading
      • Whipping, shackling, beating, mutilation, branding, imprisonment, sexual abuse, rape
        • Punishment was a response to disobedience and a chance to assert dominance
      • Sexual abuse and rape were common and legal for slave women, men, and children
        • “rape was not merely a result of sexual desire and opportunity, or simply a form of punishment and racial domination, but instead encompassed all of these dimensions as part of the identity of white masculinity” Rachel A. Feinstein
        • The sexual abuse of slaves was partially rooted in historical Southern culture and its view of the enslaved as property
          • Children of white men and black women were classified as slaves regardless of their father’s race or status.
      • Constant fear of family members being sold and never seen again
  • Fear of Running Away
    • Slave patrols and Night Watches
      • Designed to control slaves and protect the institutions of slavery, through fear and violence
        • In 1704, the colony of Carolina developed the nation’s first slave patrol
      • Roots of early policing
      • Not just a southern affair
        • Connecticut, New York and other colonies enacted laws to criminalize and control slaves
        • Congress passed fugitive slave Laws, allowing the detention and return of escaped slaves, in 1793 and 1850

“a legally sanctioned law enforcement system existed in America before the Civil War for the express purpose of controlling the slave population and protecting the interests of slave owners.” Turner, Giacopassi and Vandiver

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Rise of White Vigilante Groups

  • After the Civil War, slave patrols were replaced by vigilante groups
    • During Reconstruction, white supremacists formed political/social groups
      • Secret Groups
        • The Ku Klux Klan (1865)
          • Famed Confederate General Nathan Bedford Forrest was the Klan’s first leader, or Grand Wizard, and today he is immortalized in stone monuments in many towns and cities throughout the South
        • Knights of the White Camellia (1867)
      • Publically Open Groups
        • White League (1874)
        • Red Shirts (1875)
  • All four groups used violence to intimidate blacks and Republican voters
    • Supported the “Redemption”
      • Political movement to restore white dominance in the South following the Civil War
        • Its advocates, called Redeemers, opposed Republicans and black citizenship rights
      • Succeeded with the end of Reconstruction and restoration of white supremacy in 1877

“how many black men and women were beaten, flogged, mutilated, and murdered in the first years of emancipation will never be known.” historian Leon F. Litwack

WorsethanSlaveryLarge.jpgThis Harper’s Weekly cartoon from October 1874, titled “The Union As It Was”

EJI: Terror Lynching in America

“This caste system was maintained through wanton racial terrorism. And black veterans like Woodard, especially those with the audacity to wear their uniform, had since the Civil War been the target of a particular violence. This intensified during the two world wars because white people understood that once black men had gone abroad and experienced life outside the suffocating racial oppression of America, they were unlikely to quietly return to their subjugation at home. As Senator James K. Vardaman of Mississippi said on the Senate floor during World War I, black servicemen returning to the South would “inevitably lead to disaster.” Giving a black man “military airs” and sending him to defend the flag would bring him “to the conclusion that his political rights must be respected.”

Many white Americans saw black men in the uniforms of America’s armed services not as patriotic but as exhibiting a dangerous pride. Hundreds of black veterans were beaten, maimed, shot and lynched. We like to call those who lived during World War II the Greatest Generation, but that allows us to ignore the fact that many of this generation fought for democracy abroad while brutally suppressing democracy for millions of American citizens. During the height of racial terror in this country, black Americans were not merely killed but castrated, burned alive and dismembered with their body parts displayed in storefronts. This violence was meant to terrify and control black people, but perhaps just as important, it served as a psychological balm for white supremacy: You would not treat human beings this way. The extremity of the violence was a symptom of the psychological mechanism necessary to absolve white Americans of their country’s original sin. To answer the question of how they could prize liberty abroad while simultaneously denying liberty to an entire race back home, white Americans resorted to the same racist ideology that Jefferson and the framers had used at the nation’s founding.

This ideology — that black people belonged to an inferior, subhuman race — did not simply disappear once slavery ended. If the formerly enslaved and their descendants became educated, if we thrived in the jobs white people did, if we excelled in the sciences and arts, then the entire justification for how this nation allowed slavery would collapse. Free black people posed a danger to the country’s idea of itself as exceptional; we held up the mirror in which the nation preferred not to peer. And so the inhumanity visited on black people by every generation of white America justified the inhumanity of the past.

Just as white Americans feared, World War II ignited what became black Americans’ second sustained effort to make democracy real. As the editorial board of the black newspaper The Pittsburgh Courier wrote, “We wage a two-pronged attack against our enslavers at home and those abroad who will enslave us.” Woodard’s blinding is largely seen as one of the catalysts for the decades-long rebellion we have come to call the civil rights movement. But it is useful to pause and remember that this was the second mass movement for black civil rights, the first being Reconstruction. As the centennial of slavery’s end neared, black people were still seeking the rights they had fought for and won after the Civil War: the right to be treated equally by public institutions, which was guaranteed in 1866 with the Civil Rights Act; the right to be treated as full citizens before the law, which was guaranteed in 1868 by the 14th Amendment; and the right to vote, which was guaranteed in 1870 by the 15th Amendment. In response to black demands for these rights, white Americans strung them from trees, beat them and dumped their bodies in muddy rivers, assassinated them in their front yards, firebombed them on buses, mauled them with dogs, peeled back their skin with fire hoses and murdered their children with explosives set off inside a church.” Nikole Hannah-Jones “Our democracy’s founding ideals were false when they were written. Black Americans have fought to make them true.”

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Racial Terror Lynchings

“The act and threat of lynching became primarily a technique of enforcing racial exploitation—economic, political, and cultural.” Equal Justice Initiative

  • Public acts of violence and torture tolerated by gov
    • That terrorized and traumatized black men, women, children, communities throughout the US
  • Enforced white supremacy/racial segregation
    • By terrorizing entire communities
  • Often attended by the entire white community
    • Conducted as celebratory acts of racial control and domination
      • Often photographed, made into postcards and victim’s body parts collected as souvenirs
  • Profoundly shaped race relations and political, social, economic conditions of blacks
    • Fueled the migration of millions of black people from the South into urban ghettos in the North and West
      • throughout the first half of the twentieth century
    • Enforced official and de facto segregation
    • Promoted racial stereotypes of black criminality and inferiority
    • Help shaped the US criminal justice system
  • Lynching created a legacy of racial inequalities and trauma
    • That has never been adequately addressed in America
    • Most communities have covered up past lynchings
      • often with confederate monuments
      • Many of the communities where lynchings took place have gone to great lengths to erect markers and monuments that memorialize the Civil War, the Confederacy, and historical events during which local power was violently reclaimed by white Southerners.
    • Most communities do not actively or visibly recognize how their race relations were shaped by terror lynching.

Lynchings Statistics

  • Between 1877-1950
    • more than 4,400 people were recorded as being lynched in 800 US counties, all except 300 In the South
    • Many more were lynched and not recorded
    • Often included torture, burning, shots, castrating, dismemberment, hanging, etc
  • Most lynchings were of black men in the South
    • Black women and children were also lynched
    • Lynchings were also common in California and the Old West especially of Latinos
    • Native Americans, Asian Americans, Jewish, Irish, Italian-American were also lynched
  • Common reasons stated for lynchings ranged from:
    • Accused/ not convicted of a crime
    • Protecting white women (often used to cover up real reason)
      • “Southern white men were “shielding” themselves “behind the plausible screen of defending the honor” of their women through lynchings in order to “palliate” their record of hate and violence” Ida B. Wells, Southern Horrors
    • Casual social transgressions or allegations of a crime
    • Scapegoating for poor economic situations, labor disputes, removing business competition
    • Intimidating and killing black voters, civil rights activists and any black person standing up for themselves
      • “You and I know what’s the best way to keep the nigger from voting. You do it the night before the election.” Mississippi senator
    • Ensuring white supremacy in any form
    • Simply because they were black and present when the preferred party could not be located
  • Highest rates of lynchings:
    • Mississippi, Florida, Arkansas, Georgia and Louisiana
    • Between 1882 and 1968, more black people were lynched in Mississippi than in any other state

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“African Americans’ efforts to fight for economic power and equal rights in the early twentieth century—a prelude to the civil rights movement—were violently repressed by whites who acted with impunity. Whites used terrorism to relegate African Americans to a state of second-class citizenship and economic disadvantage that would last for generations after emancipation and create far-reaching consequences.” Equal Justice Initiaitive Lynching in America

EJI: Lynching in American

“During the period between the Civil War and World War II, thousands of African Americans were lynched in the United States. Lynchings were violent and public acts of torture that traumatized black people throughout the country and were largely tolerated by state and federal officials. These lynchings were terrorism. “Terror lynchings” peaked between 1880 and 1940 and claimed the lives of African American men, women, and children who were forced to endure the fear, humiliation, and barbarity of this widespread phenomenon unaided.

Lynching profoundly impacted race relations in this country and shaped the geographic, political, social, and economic conditions of African Americans in ways that are still evident today. Terror lynchings fueled the mass migration of millions of black people from the South into urban ghettos in the North and West throughout the first half of the twentieth century. Lynching created a fearful environment where racial subordination and segregation was maintained with limited resistance for decades. Most critically, lynching reinforced a legacy of racial inequality that has never been adequately addressed in America. The administration of criminal justice in particular is tangled with the history of lynching in profound and important ways that continue to contaminate the integrity and fairness of the justice system.

The history of terror lynching complicates contemporary issues of race, punishment, crime, and justice. Mass incarceration, excessive penal punishment, disproportionate sentencing of racial minorities, and police abuse of people of color reveal problems in American society that were framed in the terror era. The narrative of racial difference that lynching dramatized continues to haunt us.

In America, there is a legacy of racial inequality shaped by the enslavement of millions of black people. The era of slavery was followed by decades of terrorism and racial subordination most dramatically evidenced by lynching. The civil rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s challenged the legality of many of the most racist practices and structures that sustained racial subordination but the movement was not followed by a continued commitment to Consequently, this legacy of racial inequality has persisted, leaving us vulnerable to a range of problems that continue to reveal racial disparities and injustice…

…We distinguish racial terror lynchings—the subject of this report—from hangings and mob violence that followed some criminal trial process or that were committed against non-minorities without the threat of terror. Those lynchings were a crude form of punishment that did not have the features of terror lynchings directed at racial minorities who were being threatened and menaced in multiple ways.

We also distinguish terror lynchings from racial violence and hate crimes that were prosecuted as criminal acts. Although criminal prosecution for hate crimes was rare during the period we examine, such prosecutions ameliorated those acts of violence and racial animus. The lynchings we document were acts of terrorism because these murders were carried out with impunity, sometimes in broad daylight, often “on the courthouse lawn.”i These lynchings were not “frontier justice,” because they generally took place in communities where there was a functioning criminal justice system that was deemed too good for African Americans. Terror lynchings were horrific acts of violence whose perpetrators were never held accountable. Indeed, some public spectacle lynchings were attended by the entire white community and conducted as celebratory acts of racial control and domination…

…EJI has documented 4084 racial terror lynchings in twelve Southern states between the end of Reconstruction in 1877 and 1950, which is at least 800 more lynchings in these states than previously reported. EJI has also documented more than 300 racial terror lynchings in other states during this time period…

…Some states and counties were particularly terrifying places for African Americans and had dramatically higher rates of lynching than other states and counties we reviewed. Mississippi, Florida, Arkansas, and Louisiana had the highest statewide rates of lynching in the United States. Mississippi, Georgia, and Louisiana had the highest number of lynchings…

Racial terror lynching was a tool used to enforce laws and racial segregation—a tactic for maintaining racial control by victimizing the entire African American community, not merely punishment of an alleged perpetrator for a crime. Our research confirms that many victims of terror lynchings were murdered without being accused of any crime; they were killed for minor social transgressions or for demanding basic rights and fair treatment…

…Our conversations with survivors of lynchings show that terror lynching played a key role in the forced migration of millions of black Americans out of the South. Thousands of people fled to the North and West out of fear of being lynched. Parents and spouses sent away loved ones who suddenly found themselves at risk of being lynched for a minor social transgression; they characterized these frantic, desperate escapes as surviving near-lynchings.

In all of the subject states, we observed that there is an astonishing absence of any effort to acknowledge, discuss, or address lynching. Many of the communities where lynchings took place have gone to great lengths to erect markers and monuments that memorialize the Civil War, the Confederacy, and historical events during which local power was violently reclaimed by white Southerners. These communities celebrate and honor the architects of racial subordination and political leaders known for their belief in white supremacy. There are very few monuments or memorials that address the history and legacy of lynching in particular or the struggle for racial equality more generally. Most communities do not actively or visibly recognize how their race relations were shaped by terror lynching.

We found that most terror lynchings can best be understood as having the features of one or more of the following: (1) lynchings that resulted from a wildly distorted fear of interracial sex; (2) lynchings in response to casual social transgressions; (3) lynchings based on allegations of serious violent crime; (4) public spectacle lynchings; (5) lynchings that escalated into large-scale violence targeting the entire African American community; and (6) lynchings of sharecroppers, ministers, and community leaders who resisted mistreatment, which were most common between 1915 and 1940.

The decline of lynching in the studied states relied heavily on the increased use of capital punishment imposed by court order following an often accelerated trial. That the death penalty’s roots are sunk deep in the legacy of lynching is evidenced by the fact that public executions to mollify the mob continued after the practice was legally banned…

White Southern identity was grounded in a belief that whites are inherently superior to African Americans; following the war, whites reacted violently to the notion that they would now have to treat their former human property as equals and pay for their labor. In numerous recorded incidents, plantation owners attacked black people simply for claiming their freedom.

At the Civil War’s end, black autonomy expanded but white supremacy remained deeply rooted. The failure to unearth those roots would leave black Americans exposed to terrorism and racial subordination for more than a century…”

The Atlantic: The Case For Reparations

“In the aftermath of the Civil War, Radical Republicans attempted to reconstruct the country upon something resembling universal equality—but they were beaten back by a campaign of “Redemption,” led by White Liners, Red Shirts, and Klansmen bent on upholding a society “formed for the white, not for the black man.” A wave of terrorism roiled the South. In his massive history Reconstruction, Eric Foner recounts incidents of black people being attacked for not removing their hats; for refusing to hand over a whiskey flask; for disobeying church procedures; for “using insolent language”; for disputing labor contracts; for refusing to be “tied like a slave.” Sometimes the attacks were intended simply to “thin out the niggers a little.”

Terrorism carried the day. Federal troops withdrew from the South in 1877. The dream of Reconstruction died. For the next century, political violence was visited upon blacks wantonly, with special treatment meted out toward black people of ambition. Black schools and churches were burned to the ground. Black voters and the political candidates who attempted to rally them were intimidated, and some were murdered. At the end of World War I, black veterans returning to their homes were assaulted for daring to wear the American uniform. The demobilization of soldiers after the war, which put white and black veterans into competition for scarce jobs, produced the Red Summer of 1919: a succession of racist pogroms against dozens of cities ranging from Longview, Texas, to Chicago to Washington, D.C. Organized white violence against blacks continued into the 1920s—in 1921 a white mob leveled Tulsa’s “Black Wall Street,” and in 1923 another one razed the black town of Rosewood, Florida—and virtually no one was punished.”

American Experience: Lynching in America

For many African Americans growing up in the South in the 19th and 20th centuries, the threat of lynching was commonplace. The popular image of an angry white mob stringing a black man up to a tree is only half the story. Lynching, an act of terror meant to spread fear among blacks, served the broad social purpose of maintaining white supremacy in the economic, social and political spheres.

Pervasive Threat
Author Richard Wright, who was born near Natchez in southwest Mississippi, knew of two men who were lynched — his step-uncle and the brother of a neighborhood friend. In his book Black Boy, he wrote: “The things that influenced my conduct as a Negro did not have to happen to me directly; I needed but to hear of them to feel their full effects in the deepest layers of my consciousness. Indeed, the white brutality that I had not seen was a more effective control of my behavior than that which I knew.”

Rise in Black Prominence
Although the practice of lynching had existed since before slavery, it gained momentum duringReconstruction, when viable black towns sprang up across the South and African Americans began to make political and economic inroads by registering to vote, establishing businesses and running for public office. Many whites — landowners and poor whites — felt threatened by this rise in black prominence. Foremost on their minds was a fear of sex between the races. Some whites espoused the idea that black men were sexual predators and wanted integration in order to be with white women.

Public Events
Lynchings were frequently committed with the most flagrant public display. Like executions by guillotine in medieval times, lynchings were often advertised in newspapers and drew large crowds of white families. They were a kind of vigilantism where Southern white men saw themselves as protectors of their way of life and their white women. By the early 20th century, the writer Mark Twain had a name for it: the United States of Lyncherdom.

Headlines and Grisly Souvenirs
Lynchings were covered in local newspapers with headlines spelling out the horrific details. Photos of victims, with exultant white observers posed next to them, were taken for distribution in newspapers or on postcards. Body parts, including genitalia, were sometimes distributed to spectators or put on public display. Most infractions were for petty crimes, like theft, but the biggest one of all was looking at or associating with white women. Many victims were black businessmen or black men who refused to back down from a fight. Headlines such as the following were not uncommon:

“Five White Men Take Negro Into Woods; Kill Him: Had Been Charged with Associating with White Women” went over The Associated Press wires about a lynching in Shreveport, Louisiana.

“Negro Is Slain By Texas Posse: Victim’s Heart Removed After His Capture By Armed Men” was published in The New York World Telegram on December 8, 1933.

“Negro and White Scuffle; Negro Is Jailed, Lynched” was published in the Atlanta Constitution on July 6, 1933.

Newspapers even printed that prominent white citizens in local towns attended lynchings, and often published victory pictures — smiling crowds, many with children in tow — standing next to the corpse.

Thousands of Victims
In the South, an estimated two or three blacks were lynched each week in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. In Mississippi alone, 500 blacks were lynched from the 1800s to 1955. Nationwide, the figure climbed to nearly 5,000.

Killed for Being “Insolent”
Although rape is often cited as a rationale, statistics now show that only about one-fourth of lynchings from 1880 to 1930 were prompted by an accusation of rape. In fact, most victims of lynching were political activists, labor organizers or black men and women who violated white expectations of black deference, and were deemed “uppity” or “insolent.” Though most victims were black men, women were by no means exempt.

One Woman’s Crusade
According to black journalist and editor Ida B. Wells, who launched a fierce anti-lynching campaign in the 1890s, the lynching of successful black people was a means of subordinating potential black economic competitors. She also argued that consensual sex between black men and white women, while forbidden, was widespread. Thus lynching was also a means of imposing order on white women’s sexuality. Wells, who would later help found the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, was forced to flee Memphis after her offices were torched.

Total Repression
With lynching as a violent backdrop in the South, Jim Crow as the law of the land, and the poverty of the sharecropper system, blacks had no recourse. This triage of repression ensured blacks would remain impoverished, endangered, and without rights or hope. Whites could accuse at will and rarely was a white punished for a crime committed against a black. Even for those whites who were opposed to lynching, there was not much they could do. If there was an investigation, white citizens closed ranks to protect their own and rarely were mob leaders identified.

Violence Tapered Off
Violence against blacks would taper off during the second World War and rise again after the passage of the Supreme Court’s Brown v. Board of Education decision that nullified the country’s separate-but-equal doctrine. Armed with hope, blacks began to register and organize people to vote. Local NAACP chapters began sprouting up in small towns.

Shock Over Till
When Emmett Till was murdered, the head of the NAACP, Roy Wilkins, lambasted Mississippi and called Emmett’s murder a lynching. “It would appear from this lynching that the State of Mississippi has decided to maintain white supremacy by murdering children.”

The brutal slaying of a 14-year-old boy was shocking, and when the killers later confessed to the crime in an article published in Look magazine, African Americans and others who supported civil liberties realized they would have to organize en masse and risk their lives in order to bring change.

Guardian: How white Americans used lynchings to terrorize and control black people

What were lynchings?

Historians broadly agree that lynchings were a method of social and racial control meant to terrorize black Americans into submission, and into an inferior racial caste position. They became widely practiced in the US south from roughly 1877, the end of post-civil war reconstruction, through 1950.

A typical lynching would involve criminal accusations, often dubious, against a black American, an arrest, and the assembly of a “lynch mob” intent on subverting the normal constitutional judicial process.

Victims would be seized and subjected to every imaginable manner of physical torment, with the torture usually ending with being hung from a tree and set on fire. More often than not, victims would be dismembered and mob members would take pieces of their flesh and bone as souvenirs.

In a great many cases, the mobs were aided and abetted by law enforcement (indeed, they often were the same people). Officers would routinely leave a black inmate’s jail cell unguarded after rumors of a lynching began to circulate to allow for a mob to kill them before any trial or legal defense could take place.

One chief among the trespasses (occasionally real, but usually imagined) was any claim of sexual contact between black men and white women. The trope of the hypersexual and lascivious black male, especially vis-a-vis the inviolable chastity of white women, was and remains one of the most durable tropes of white supremacy.

According to the Equal Justice Initiative (EJI), nearly 25% of lynching victims were accused of sexual assault. Nearly 30% were accused of murder.

“The mob wanted the lynching to carry a significance that transcended the specific act of punishment,” wrote the historian Howard Smead in Blood Justice: The Lynching of Mack Charles Parker. The mob “turned the act into a symbolic rite in which the black victim became the representative of his race and, as such, was being disciplined for more than a single crime … The deadly act was [a] warning [to] the black population not to challenge the supremacy of the white race.”

Because of the nature of lynchings – summary executions that occurred outside the constraints of court documentation – there was no formal, centralized tracking of the phenomenon. Most historians believe this has left the true number of lynchings dramatically underreported.

For decades, the most comprehensive total belonged to the archives at the Tuskegee Institute, which tabulated 4,743 people who died at the hands of US lynch mobs between 1881 and 1968. According to the Tuskegee numbers, 3,446 (nearly three-quarters) of those lynched were black Americans.

The EJI, which relied on the Tuskegee numbers in building its own count, integrated other sources, such as newspaper archives and other historical records, to arrive at a total of 4,084 racial terror lynchings in 12 southern states between the end of Reconstruction in 1877 and 1950, and another 300 in other states.

Unlike the Tuskegee data, EJI’s numbers attempt to exclude incidents it considered acts of “mob violence” that followed a legitimate criminal trial process or that “were committed against non-minorities without the threat of terror”.

Left to right: The lynching of George Meadows, 1889. Crowd Surrounds Two African American Lynching Victims. A group of African-Americans marching near the Capitol building in Washington, D.C., to protest the lynching of four African-Americans in Georgia.
Left to right: The lynching of George Meadows, 1889. A crowd surrounds two African American lynching victims. A group of African Americans marching near the Capitol building in Washington DC, to protest against the lynching of four African Americans in Georgia. Composite: Library of Congress

Unsurprisingly, lynching was most concentrated in the former Confederate states, and especially in those with large black populations.

According to EJI’s data, Mississippi, Florida, Arkansas and Louisiana had the highest statewide rates of lynching in the United States. Mississippi, Georgia and Louisiana had the highest number of lynchings.

Among the most unsettling realities of lynching is the degree to which white Americans embraced it, not as an uncomfortable necessity or a way of maintaining order, but as a joyous moment of wholesome celebration.

“Whole families came together, mothers and fathers, bringing even their youngest children. It was the show of the countryside – a very popular show,” read a 1930 editorial in the Raleigh News and Observer. “Men joked loudly at the sight of the bleeding body … girls giggled as the flies fed on the blood that dripped from the Negro’s nose.”

Adding to the macabre nature of the scene, lynching victims were typically dismembered into pieces of human trophy for mob members.

In his autobiography, WEB Du Bois writes of the 1899 lynching of Sam Hose in Georgia. He reports that the knuckles of the victim were on display at a local store on Mitchell Street in Atlanta and that a piece of the man’s heart and liver was presented to the state’s governor.

In the 1931 Maryville, Missouri, lynching of Raymond Gunn, the crowd estimated at 2,000 to 4,000 was at least a quarter women, and included hundreds of children. One woman “held her little girl up so she could get a better view of the naked Negro blazing on the roof”, wrote Arthur Raper in The Tragedy of Lynching.

After the fire was out, hundreds poked about in his ashes for souvenirs. “The charred remains of the victim were divided piece by piece,” wrote Raper.

Lynchings were only the latest fashion in racial terrorism against black Americans when they came to the fore in the late 19th century. White planters had long used malevolent and highly visible violence against the enslaved to try to suppress even the vaguest rumors of insurrection.

In 1811, after a failed insurrection outside New Orleans, for example, whites decorated the road to the plantation where the plot failed with the decapitated heads of blacks, many of whom planters later admitted had nothing to do with the revolt.

It wasn’t a southern-specific phenomenon, either. In 1712, colonial authorities in New York City manacled, burned and broke on the wheel 18 enslaved blacks accused of plotting for their freedom.

Communities of free blacks also faced the constant threat of race riots and pogroms at the hands of white mobs throughout the 19th century and continuing into the lynching era.

Among the best known of these was the decimation of the Tulsa, Oklahoma, neighborhood of Greenwood in 1921, after a black man was falsely charged with raping a white woman in an elevator. The Greenwood neighborhood was sometimes referred to as “Black Wall Street” for its economic vitality before the massacre. According to the Tulsa Historical Society, it is believed 100 to 300 blacks were killed by white mobs in a matter of a few hours.

Similar events, from the New York draft riots during the civil war to others in New Orleans, Knoxville, Charleston, Chicago, and St Louis, saw hundreds of blacks killed.

The start of the lynching era is commonly pegged to 1877, the year of the Tilden-Hayes compromise, which is viewed by most historians as the official end of Reconstruction in the US south. In order to settle a razor-thin and contested presidential election between the Republican Rutherford B Hayes and the Democrat Samuel Tilden, northern Republicans agreed to withdraw federal troops from the last of the formerly renegade states.

The move technically only affected South Carolina and Louisiana but symbolically gestured to the south that the north would no longer hold the former Confederacy to the promise of full citizenship for freed blacks, and the south jumped at the chance to renege on the pledge. The end of Reconstruction ushered in a widespread campaign of racial terror and oppression against newly freed black Americans, of which lynching was a cornerstone.

Left to right: a flag announcing lynching flown from the NAACP headquarters, New York, in May 1916; a NAACP pin; and news clippings.
Left to right: a flag announcing lynching flown from the NAACP headquarters, New York, in May 1916; an NAACP pin; and news clippings. Composite: National Archives/Library of Congress

The vast majority of lynching participants were never punished, both because of the tacit approval of law enforcement, and because dozens if not hundreds often had a hand in the killing. Still, punishment was not unheard of – though most of the time, if white lynchers were tried or convicted, it was for arson, rioting or some other much more minor offense.

According to EJI, of all lynchings committed after 1900, only 1% resulted in a lyncher being convicted of a criminal offense of any kind.

Lynchings slowed in the middle of the 20th century with the coming of the civil rights movement.

Anti-lynching efforts predominantly led by women’s organizations had a measurable effect, helping to generate overwhelming white support for an anti-lynching bill by 1937 (though such legislation never made it past the filibusters of southern Dixiecrats in the Senate).

Also playing a major role was the great migration of black people out of the south into urban areas north and west. The exodus of some 6 million black Americans between 1910 and 1970 was pushed by racial terror and a waning agricultural economy and pulled by a surfeit of industrial job opportunities.

The year 1952 was the first since people began keeping track that there were no recorded lynchings. When it happened again in 1953, Tuskegee suspended its data collection, suggesting that as traditionally defined, lynching had ceased to be a useful “barometer for measuring the status of race relations in the United States”.

But foregrounding the intense new waves of brutality that would greet the nascent civil rights movement, Tuskegee continued in its final lynching report that the terror was switching modes by “the development of other extra-legal means of control, such as bombings, incendiarism, threats and intimidation”.

In The End of American Lynching, Ashraf HA Rushdy argues: “The violence meant to act as a form of social control and terrorism had become less ritualistic and less collective. Individuals and small groups could throw bombs, perform drive-by shootings and torch a house,” as the resurgence of the KKK and similar violent white hate groups proved.

The end of lynching cannot be said to be purely academic, though. While targeted violence against black people did not end with the lynching era, the element of public spectacle and open, even celebratory participation was a unique social phenomenon that would not be reborn in the same way as racial violence evolved.

Despite the shift, the specter of ritual black death as a public affair – one that people could confidently participate in without anonymity and that could be seen as entertainment – did not end with the lynching era.

Generally speaking and especially early on, the white press wrote sympathetically about lynchings and their necessity to preserve order in the south. The Memphis Evening Scimitar published in 1892:

Aside from the violation of white women by Negroes, which is the outcropping of a bestial perversion of instinct, the chief cause of trouble between the races in the South is the Negro’s lack of manners. In the state of slavery he learned politeness from association with white people who took pains to teach him. Since the emancipation came and the tie of mutual interest and regard between master and servant was broken, the Negro has drifted away into a state which is neither freedom nor bondage …

In consequence … there are many negroes who use every opportunity to make themselves offensive, particularly when they think it can be done with impunity …

We have had too many instances right here in Memphis to doubt this, and our experience is not exceptional. The white people won’t stand this sort of thing, and … the response will be prompt and effectual.

The black press, on the other hand, was arguably the primary force in fighting against the phenomenon.

The Memphis journalist Ida B Wells was the most strident and devoted anti-lynching advocate in US history, and spent a 40-year-career writing, researching and speaking on the horrors of the practice. As a young woman she travelled the south for months, chronicling lynchings and gathering empirical data.

Wells eventually became an owner of the Memphis Free Speech and Headlight before being chased out of town by white mobs and relocating to New York and then Chicago.

Eventually many white publications began to turn with overall white attitudes about lynching. “Missouri in Shame” was the headline of the first editorial in the Kansas City Star on the 1931 Maryville Lynching of Raymond Gunn.

It read, in part:

The lynching at Maryville was about as horrible as such a thing can be. Lynching in itself is a fearful reproach to American civilization. Lynching by fire is the vengeance of a savage past … The sickening outrage is the more deplorable because it easily could have been prevented.

Further Readings

NAACP: History of Lynchings

Back to Top

Types of Lynching

Public spectacle Lynchings

Luther Holbert Lynching

  • 1904, after Luther Holbert allegedly killed a local white landowner
    • He and his wife were captured by a mob and lynched in Mississippi, before hundreds of white spectators
      • Mob chopped off their fingers and ears and distributed them as souvenirs.
      • Holbert was beaten so severely that his skull was fractured and one of his eyes was left hanging from its socket
      • The mob used a large corkscrew to bore holes into the victims’ bodies
      • Both victims were eventually thrown onto a raging fire and burned.
    • The white men, women, and children present watched while enjoying deviled eggs, lemonade, and whiskey in a picnic-like atmosphere.

Lynching of Luther Holbert, Local newspaper read, “When the two Negroes were captured, they were tied to trees and while the funeral pyres were being prepared, they were forced to hold out their hands while one finger at a time was chopped off. The fingers were distributed as souvenirs. The ears of the murderers were cut off. Holbert was beaten severely, his skull was fractured and one of his eyes, knocked out with a stick, hung by a shred from the socket. “Some of the mob used a large corkscrew to bore into the flesh of the man and woman. It was applied to their arms, legs and body, then pulled out, the spirals tearing out big pieces of raw, quivering flesh every time it was withdrawn.”

“Gruesome public spectacle lynchings traumatized the African American community. The crowds of hundreds or thousands of white people attending as participants or spectators included elected officials and prominent citizens; white press coverage regularly defended the lynchings as justified; and cursory investigations rarely led to identifications of lynch mob members, much less prosecutions. White men, women, and children fought over bloodied ropes, clothing, and body parts, and proudly displayed these “souvenirs” with no fear of punishment…Spectacle lynchings were preserved in photographs that were made into postcards and distributed unashamedly through the mail.

These killings were not the actions of a few marginalized vigilantes or extremists; they were bold, public acts that implicated the entire community and sent a clear message that African Americans were less than human, their subjugation was to be achieved through any means necessary, and whites who undertook the duty of carrying out lynchings would face no legal repercussions.” Equal Justice Initiative



Postcard depicting the lynching of Lige Daniels, Center, Texas

Eliminating Economic Competition

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  • People’s Grocery lynching
    • Black owned cooperative grocery in Memphis in 1892
    • Infringed on the white grocery monopoly
    • After fight 3 black owners imprisoned
    • White mob lynched them
    • People’s Grocery was sold for 1/8 cost to the competing white grocery
    • Led to 6,000 blacks leaving Memphis for Western
    • Started Ida B Well’s anti-lynching campaign


LA Times: How lynching was used by whites to destroy competition from black business owners

“The story of the murder of Elmore Bolling, a successful black businessman, by his jealous white neighbor in Alabama in 1949 was just a glimpse into a pattern of racist violence that terrorized African Americans for generations. On a broader scale, during the Jim Crow era white Americans destroyed prosperous black businesses in many communities.

One of the most notorious of such incidents took place in Memphis in 1892. There, a store called People’s Grocery, which was owned by a successful black businessman, competed with a nearby white-owned shop. The People’s Grocery owner and two of his black employees were lynched by white marauders in a horrific assault that reverberated throughout the nation and wiped out the entrepreneurial spirit of many African Americans in Memphis and elsewhere.

Ida B. Wells not only documented the extent of lynching but even more importantly debunked the “rape myth.” This was the prevailing view at the turn of the 20th century that lynching of black men was somehow justified because they raped white women.

Using statistics from white newspapers, Wells revealed that lynchings in the South had many causes, including the rising economic competition of African Americans with whites. Maintaining white supremacy, not the rape of white women, was the overall motivating factor, Wells concluded.”

Lynching Rampages

Mary Turner

  • 1918 a Georgian abusive plantation owner was killed
    • Supposedly by one of his workers
  • A white mob conducted a manhunt
    • Whites killed at least 13 black people during the next two weeks
    • One of the innocent victims was Hayes Turner
      • Who was lynched and left hanging for a whole weekend
    • His wife Mary Turner, mother of two and eight months pregnant
      • Publicly denounced her husband’s lynching.
      • She denied that her husband had been involved in Smith’s killing
        • Threatened to have members of the mob arrested
      • The mob turned against her, determined to “teach her a lesson”.
        • According to investigator Walter F. White of the NAACP, Mary Turner was tied and hung upside down by the ankles, her clothes soaked with gasoline, and burned from her body
          • Her belly was slit open with a knife like those used “in splitting hogs.”
          • Her “unborn baby” fell to the ground and gave “two feeble cries”
            • Its head was crushed by a member of the mob with his heel
          • Crowd shot hundreds of bullets into Turner’s body.
          • Mary Turner was buried with her child near a tree with a whiskey bottle marking the grave
  • Following the lynchings, over 500 black residents fled area from the violence
    • Although whites threatened to kill black workers who tried to leave
  • No one was ever charged for these lynchings



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In 1868, around 200 recently emancipated African Americans were killed by a white mob in Opelousas, Louisiana for registering voters.
– In 1919, as many as 237 Black farmers in Elaine, Arkansas were lynched for organizing their labor to negotiate better conditions.
– Tulsa’s Greenwood neighborhood was once the wealthiest Black community in the country, earning it the moniker of “Black Wall Street.” In 1921, it was bombed, burning it to the ground and leaving up to 300 dead.
– In 2015, a lone white supremacist in Charleston entered one of the country’s oldest Black churches and shot 10 worshipers in cold blood.

As @kimberlylatricejones recently explained, massacres are systematic expressions of white supremacy. “Every time that they don’t like the way that you’re playing, or that you’re catching up, or that you’re doing something to be self-sufficient, they burn your game… So if I played 400 rounds of Monopoly, and I had to give you every dime that I made, and then for 50 years, every time that I played, if you didn’t like what I did, you got to burn it, like they did in Tulsa and like they did in Rosewood, how can you win? You can’t win. The game is fixed… They are lucky that what Black people are looking for is equality and not revenge.” decolonialatlas

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“A member of the Harlem Hellfighters (369th Infantry Regiment) poses for the camera while holding a puppy he saved during World War 1, 1918.

The Harlem Hellfighters was a regiment made up of decorated Black soldiers who fought as part of the French army because the U.S. did not allow Black soldiers to fight alongside white soldiers. The French accepted the Harlem Hellfighters with open arms and did not racially segregate them.

During World War 1, they fought on the front lines for 191 days, longer than any other American unit. And as a result, suffered the most casualties of any American regiment—losing approximately 1,500 men. Despite the heavy death toll and the poor replacement system, the Harlem Hellfighters never lost a trench or a foot of ground to the enemy; none of them became prisoners of war. Not only were they one of the most successful regiments of World War 1, but they also helped bring Jazz to France.

Upon returning home, the Harlem Hellfighters received a welcome parade in New York City; a privilege that was denied to them before they had left for war. However, the celebrations were short lived as the summer of 1919 became known as the Red Summer, in which the country saw some of the worst racial violence since the Civil War.

The Harlem Hellfighters who dreamed of returning home to a place that would finally treat them with respect and as equal human beings, quickly realized that nothing had changed at all.” historycoolkids


The “Red Summer” of 1919


EJI: White Mobs Terrorize African Americans in East St. Louis Riots

On July 3, 1917, continuing violence raged in East St. Louis, Illinois, as white mobs attacked black residents and destroyed their homes and other property. The primary outbreak of violence began on July 2, 1917, when white residents of East St. Louis and other nearby communities ambushed African American workers as they left factories during a shift change. The National Guard was called in to suppress the violence but they were ordered not to shoot at white rioters; some troops reportedly joined the mobs targeting the black community.

In 1916 and 1917, thousands of African Americans moved from the rural South to East St. Louis, in search of industrial work. White residents and political leaders of the city attempted to discourage black migration and prohibited railroads from transporting black people to the region. When these attempts failed, white residents used violence to intimidate, expel, and destroy the African American population.

Between July 2-5,1917, least 39, and some estimates indicate up to 200, African American men, women, and children were shot, hanged, beaten to death, or burned alive after being driven into burning buildings. The riots caused more than $400,000 in property damage and prompted 6,000 African American residents — more than half of East St. Louis’s African American population — to flee the city. While 105 people were indicted on charges related to the riot, only twenty members of the white mob received prison sentences for their roles in perpetrating the extreme violence and killings.


EJI: Red Summer of 1919

African American veterans returned home from World War I eager to continue the fight for freedom at home. Many black soldiers returned from the war with a newfound determination to bring freedom to their own shores. As W.E.B. Du Bois proclaimed in his 1919 Crisis editorial, Returning Soldiers, “We return. We return from fighting. We return fighting.54 Before World War I, the NAACP had just 9000 members nationwide and only 300 in the South, but by the early 1920s, national membership had risen to 100,000, with Southern chapters constituting a slight majority.55 African Americans had returned home from the war with new and contagious confidence and assertiveness.

Red Summer refers to a series of approximately 25 “anti-black riots” that erupted in major cities throughout the nation in 1919, including Houston, Texas; East St. Louis and Chicago, Illinois; Washington, D.C.; Omaha, Nebraska; Elaine, Arkansas; Tulsa, Oklahoma; and Charleston, South Carolina.56

In Elaine, Arkansas, whites attacked a meeting of black sharecroppers who were organizing to demand fairer treatment in the cotton market. After a white person was shot, federal troops were called in to “quell” the violence, but instead they joined white mobs in hunting black residents for several days. More than 200 black men, women, and children were killed.57

Many African American soldiers returning from World War I were outspoken against racial discrimination, inequality, and violence that continued to plague black communities, and they played an active role in defending their communities during Red Summer. “By the God of Heaven,” W.E.B. Du Bois said of returning veterans, “we are cowards and jackasses if now that the war is over, we do not marshal every ounce of our brain and brawn to fight a sterner, longer, more unbending battle against the forces of hell in our own land.”58 Black veterans stood “on the front lines” as they “defended themselves from the white onslaught,” while those with light complexions reportedly infiltrated the white mobs to gather intelligence. The Washington Bee reported that those fighting back against the mobs included black veterans “who had served with distinction in France, some of whom had been wounded fighting to make the world safe for democracy.”59

After World War I, an estimated 100,000 black veterans moved North, where they still encountered segregation, racism, and inequality. One of the first victims of Red Summer violence in Washington, D.C., was a 22-year-old black veteran named Randall Neal. In Chicago, the “presence and inspiration of black veterans, particularly those of the 370th Infantry Regiment” was critical to black Chicagoans forced to “defend themselves from white aggression.”60

In the fall of 1919, Dr. George Edmund Haynes completed a report on the causes and scope of Red Summer. He reported that “the persistence of unpunished lynching” contributed to the mob mentality among white men and fueled a new commitment to self-defense among black men who had been emboldened by war service. “In such a state of public mind,” Dr. Haynes wrote, “a trivial incident can precipitate a riot.”61

AP: Hundreds of black deaths in 1919 are being remembered

America in the summer of 1919 ran red with blood from racial violence, and yet today, 100 years later, not many people know it even happened.

It flowed in small towns like Elaine, Arkansas, in medium-size places such as Annapolis, Maryland, and Syracuse, New York, and in big cities like Washington and Chicago. Hundreds of African American men, women and children were burned alive, shot, hanged or beaten to death by white mobs. Thousands saw their homes and businesses burned to the ground and were driven out, many never to return.

It was branded “Red Summer” because of the bloodshed and amounted to some of the worst white-on-black violence in U.S. history.

Beyond the lives and family fortunes lost, it had far-reaching repercussions, contributing to generations of black distrust of white authority. But it also galvanized blacks to defend themselves and their neighborhoods with fists and guns; reinvigorated civil rights organizations like the NAACP and led to a new era of activism; gave rise to courageous reporting by black journalists; and influenced the generation of leaders who would take up the fight for racial equality decades later.

“The people who were the icons of the civil rights movement were raised by the people who survived Red Summer,” said Saje Mathieu, a history professor at the University of Minnesota.

For all that, there are no national observances marking Red Summer. History textbooks ignore it, and most museums don’t acknowledge it. The reason: Red Summer contradicts the post-World War I-era notion that America was making the world safe for democracy, historians say.

“It doesn’t fit into the neat stories we tell ourselves,” said David Krugler, author of “1919, The Year of Racial Violence: How African Americans Fought Back.”

That could change. A monument has been proposed in Arkansas. Several authors have written about the bloody summer. A Brooklyn choral group performed Red Summer-theme songs like “And They Lynched Him on a Tree” in March to commemorate the centennial. At the National World War I Museum and Memorial in Kansas City, Mathieu and author Cameron McWhirter plan to present some of their findings July 30 .

Researchers believe that in a span of 10 months, more than 250 African Americans were killed in at least 25 riots across the U.S. by white mobs that never faced punishment. Historian John Hope Franklin called it “the greatest period of interracial strife the nation has ever witnessed.”

The bloodshed was the product of a collision of social forces: Black men were returning from World War I expecting the same rights they had fought and bled for in Europe, and African Americans were moving north to escape the brutal Jim Crow laws of the South. Whites saw blacks as competition for jobs, homes and political power.

“Ethnic cleansing was the goal of the white rioters,” said William Tuttle, a retired professor of American studies at the University of Kansas and author of “Race Riot: Chicago in the Red Summer of 1919.” ″They wanted to kill as many black people as possible and to terrorize the rest until they were willing to leave and live someplace else.”

In this 1919 photo provided by the Chicago History Museum, a victim is stoned and bludgeoned under a corner of a house during the race riots in Chicago. (Chicago History Museum/The Jun Fujita negatives collection via AP)

The violence didn’t start or end in 1919. Some count the era of Red Summer as beginning with the deaths of more than two dozen African Americans in East St. Louis, Illinois, in 1917 and extending through the Rosewood Massacre of 1923, when a black town in Florida was destroyed. All told, at least 1,122 Americans were killed in racial violence over those six years, by Tuttle’s count.

In 1919 alone, violence erupted in such places as New York; Memphis, Tennessee; Philadelphia; Charleston, South Carolina; Baltimore; New Orleans; Wilmington, Delaware; Omaha, Nebraska; New London, Connecticut; Bisbee, Arizona; Longview, Texas; Knoxville, Tennessee; Norfolk, Virginia; and Putnam County, Georgia.

In the nation’s capital, white mobs — many made up of members of the military — rampaged over the weekend of July 19-22, beating any black they could find after false rumors of a white woman being assaulted by black men spread.

“In front of the Riggs Bank the rioters beat a Negro with clubs and stones wrapped in handkerchiefs; the bleeding figure lay in the street for over twenty minutes before being taken to the hospital,” Lloyd M. Abernethy wrote in the Maryland Historical Magazine in 1963. “Sensing the failure of the police, the mob became even more contemptuous of authority — two Negroes were attacked and beaten directly in front of the White House.”

Carter G. Woodson, the historian who founded Black History Month in 1926, saw the violence up close.

“They had caught a Negro and deliberately held him as one would a beef for slaughter, and when they had conveniently adjusted him for lynching, they shot him,” Woodson wrote. “I heard him groaning in his struggle as I hurried away as fast as I could without running, expecting every moment to be lynched myself.”

In Elaine, Arkansas, poor black sharecroppers who had dared to join a union were attacked, and at least 200 African Americans were killed.

Ida B. Wells, a pioneering black journalist and one of the few reporters to interview victims, noted a woman named Lula Black was dragged from her farm by a white mob after saying she would join the union.

“They knocked her down, beat her over the head with their pistols, kicked her all over the body, almost killed her, then took her to jail,” Wells wrote in her report “The Arkansas Race Riot.” “The same mob went to Frank Hall’s house and killed Frances Hall, a crazy old woman housekeeper, tied her clothes over her head, threw her body in the public road where it lay thus exposed till the soldiers came Thursday evening and took it up.”

Black journalists like Wells played an important role in getting the story out.

“Black newspapers like the Chicago Defender were instrumental in providing an alternate voice that represented why African Americans deserved to be here, deserved equal rights and were, in some cases, justified in fighting,” said Kevin Strait, a curator at the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture.

Red Summer also marked a new era of black resistance to white injustice, with African Americans standing up in unprecedented numbers and killing some of their tormentors. Returning black soldiers from World War I led the charge, using skills they refined in Europe.

“The Germans weren’t the enemy — the enemy was right here at home,” said Harry Haywood in his autobiography, “A Black Communist in the Freedom Struggle: The Life of Harry Haywood.”

In Washington, Carrie Johnson, 17, became a hero for shooting at white invaders in her neighborhood. She fatally shot a white policeman who broke into her second-story bedroom. She claimed self-defense, and her manslaughter conviction was overturned.

The NAACP gained about 100,000 members that year, said McWhirter, author of “Red Summer: The Summer of 1919 and the Awakening of Black America.” Soon, blacks were “going to Congress, they’re pressing congressmen and senators to pass anti-lynching legislation. At the same time, they’re fighting back in the courts, they’re filing lawsuits when people are being mistreated or railroaded.”

The lessons of Red Summer would reverberate after World War II.

“You have a similar situation where African Americans had done their part to make the world safe for democracy, and black veterans came home, and many of them were alive or had heard the stories of what happened in 1919,” Krugler said. “And they said, ‘Never again.’”

Teen Vogue: The Red Summer of 1919, Explained

Some of America’s most notorious racist riots happened 100 years ago this summer. Confronting a national epidemic of white mob violence, 1919 was a time when black people in the United States defended themselves, fought back, and demanded full citizenship through thousands of acts of courage, small and large, individual and collective.

But pull a standard U.S. history textbook off the shelf and you’re unlikely to find more than a paragraph on the 1919 riots. What you do find downplays both racism and black resistance while distorting facts in a dangerous “both sides” framing. These textbooks render students stupid about white supremacy and bereft of examples from those who defied it.

At this moment of revived racist backlash, all of us need to learn the lessons of 1919

Throughout 1919 the exercise of black agency — black veterans wearing their military uniforms in public, black children swimming in the white section of Lake Michigan, black sharecroppers in Arkansas organizing for better wages and working conditions — was met with white mob terror. A wave of anti-black collective violence usually and problematically termed “race riots” occurred in Charleston, South Carolina; Longview, Texas; Bisbee, Arizona; Washington, D.C.; Chicago; Knoxville, Tennessee; Omaha, Nebraska; and Elaine, Arkansas. In addition, white supremacists lynched nearly 100 black people and initiated dozens of smaller racist clashes throughout the country in 1919. In Pittsburgh, the Klan made clear the goal of this bloody work in the printed notices posted around a black neighborhood: “The war is over, negroes. Stay in your place. If you don’t, we’ll put you there.”

Red Summer — so deemed by NAACP leader James Weldon Johnson to capture its sheer bloodiness — is a study in what historian Carol Anderson calls white rage. In White Rage: the Unspoken Truth of Our Racial Divide, Anderson writes, “The trigger for white rage, inevitably, is black advancement. It is not the mere presence of black people that is the problem; rather, it is blackness with ambition, with drive, with purpose, with aspirations, and with demands for full and equal citizenship.” According to historian David Krugler, the official death toll of 1919’s epidemic of white rage exceeded 150. ”The majority of the victims were black,” he wrote, “Yet African Americans refused to surrender.”

In Knoxville, Tennessee, armed black men organized themselves to successfully repel hundreds of white rioters who had already destroyed the county jail with a battering ram and dynamite. In Chicago, African-Americans formed self-defense units after days of white terror in their neighborhoods. Many of these defenders were veterans, among the 370,000 black men inducted into the Army during World War I who hoped fighting for democracy abroad might finally secure their first-class citizenship at home. The mob violence in Chicago convinced Harry Haywood, a veteran of the all-black 370th Infantry Regiment, he’d made a mistake. As he explained, “I had been fighting the wrong war. The Germans weren’t the enemy — the enemy was right here at home.”

In Washington, D.C., 17-year-old Carrie Johnson opened fire on men breaking into her home while 1,000 white rioters laid siege to her neighborhood. In Anniston, Alabama, in December of 1918, a black veteran, Sergeant Edgar Caldwell, was ordered out of the white section of a streetcar. He refused. Kicked out of the car and set upon by the white motorman and conductor, Caldwell shot his pistol twice, killing one of his attackers.

Though uncoordinated, when looked at together, these hundreds of moments in and leading up to 1919 read as an awesome display of collective black agency and self-preservation.

Just as contemporary targets of anti-black violence are often blamed for their own victimization — Michael Brown was “no angel” while white supremacists in Charlottesville are deemed “very fine people” — the white media’s coverage of the 1919 riots almost always assigned blame for the violence to black people. But the black press, whose publishers and writers risked their lives in the pursuit of truth-telling, worked alongside black leaders and political organizations to establish a powerful counter-narrative. Black America’s most influential newspaper, the Chicago Defender, carefully documented the riots while striking a tone of defiance, saying, “A Race that has furnished hundreds of thousands of the best soldiers that the world has ever seen is no longer content to turn the left cheek when smitten upon the right.”

But students learn little of this early-20th-century episode of sustained, collective self-defense. Two of the three U.S. textbooks used in my school, outside of Portland, Oregon, devote only a single paragraph to the riots. The third has five paragraphs, focusing mostly on the D.C. riot, which would seem generous if the account didn’t distort the history and leave students mystified about racism’s role in the violence, writing:

Southern African Americans who had migrated to Washington, D.C., during the war had been competing for jobs in an atmosphere of mounting racial tension. Newspaper reports of rumored African American violence against whites contributed to the tension.

Following one such newspaper story, 200 sailors and marines marched into the city, beating African American men and women. A group of whites also tried to break through military barriers to attack African Americans in their homes. Determined to fight back, a group of African Americans boarded a streetcar and attacked the motorman and the conductors. African Americans also exchanged gunfire with whites who drove or walked through their neighborhoods.

By opening its analysis of the riots with black people migrating and seeking work, this textbook structurally implies it was the actions of African-Americans — rather than the white mobs — that prompted the violence. This is the same kind of backward reasoning that makes note of Trayvon Martin’s hoodie or Tamir Rice’s airsoft pellet gun in explaining their killings. In this framing, black people always “do” something which justifies the violence that follows; white violence and volition is always incidental, never fundamental.

The authors of the textbook also erase the magnitude and breadth of the self-defense effort. A black newspaper, the New York Age, celebrated as “splendid” the reach of the resistance, which included “poolroom hangers-on and men from the alleys and side streets, people from the most ordinary walks of life.” Neval Thomas, an active member of the Washington branch of the NAACP, counted 2,000 African-Americans — many of them armed — patrolling D.C. city blocks with the intention to “die for their race, and defy the white mob.” White people were not being targeted because they “walked or drove through” black neighborhoods, as the modern-day textbook suggests, but because thousands of white people had organized themselves into mobs, and black people were determined to protect themselves.

These textbooks peddle in the ambiguity of “racial unrest,” “racial violence,” and the most ubiquitous offender, “race riot,” to describe the events of 1919. These phrases give the impression of groups of blacks and whites in conflict with each other, responsibility shared by “both sides.” But there is little doubt about who instigated these riots. As Cameron McWhirter has written, “In almost every case, white mobs — whether sailors on leave, immigrant slaughterhouse workers, or southern farmers — initiated the violence.”

To capture the irrefutable fact of white culpability, a more accurate term might be racist riot. But “racism” or “racist” are terms these textbooks avoid.

The absence of a full-throated naming of racism’s role in these episodes of anti-black collective violence matters. By downplaying the extent to which violent white supremacy shaped African-Americans’ 20th-century experiences, textbooks leave students without the knowledge to fully account for racism as a key force in modern social relations. No wonder the question of reparations is so seldom seriously entertained in mainstream U.S. political discourse. We cannot repair a pattern of harm that we have been taught to neither acknowledge nor understand.

One hundred years ago, black people across the United States met white mob violence with countless defiant acts of self-defense. Today’s Black Lives Matter activists fit seamlessly into this centuries-long pattern of black militant resistance to white supremacy — as they mobilize against the violent policies and militarized police that threaten their neighborhoods, as they challenge corporate media’s habit of framing victims of white racist violence as the authors of their own destruction, as they demand we confront the damage white supremacy has wrought. Our students deserve the opportunity to identify this through line of black agency, rebellion, and resistance. It is a powerful call to action for all of us: Red Summer is now.

NY Post: Blacks were slaughtered by whites in an episode forgotten by history books

Massacres continued into 1920s with impunity

  • 1921 – Tulsa’s “Black Wall Street
    • up to 300 dead – 9000 homeless
    • Largest anti-black riot – Enormous amount of wealth stolen from blacks

Economist: The black-white wealth gap is unchanged after half a century

FEW AMERICANS remember Greenwood, a once-prosperous African-American neighbourhood in Tulsa, Oklahoma, that was known as Black Wall Street. In 1921 Dick Rowland, a black shoeshiner, was charged with attempting to rape a white lift-girl in a downtown office building. An incensed white mob gathered at the courthouse to lynch him, then proceeded to Greenwood for two days of rioting, looting and murder. City officials aided and abetted the violence. In the end 35 blocks were destroyed, 10,000 black people were made homeless, and as many as 300 were killed. Residents reported aeroplanes flying overhead, dropping explosives. It was one of the worst incidents of racial violence since the civil war. Tens of millions of dollars in black wealth were destroyed or stolen. No compensation was awarded to either the victims or their descendants.

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Tulsa’s “Black Wall Street” Burning

Teen Vogue: Black Wall Street and the Tulsa Race Massacre of 1921, Explained

Ninety-eight years ago, one of the worst episodes of violence sparked by racism in America erupted in the heart of one of the most prosperous Black communities in the nation.

Dubbed “Black Wall Street” due its affluent black residents, the Greenwood neighborhood of Oklahoma, where the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre took place, was a hub of Black success featuring Black-owned homes and establishments, including banks, restaurants, and hotels, in a community that included accomplished lawyers, doctors, and dentists. It was one of a fewpredominantly Black areas that thrived economically after the end of the Civil War and into the 20th century, when racial discrimination was the order of the day. The residents of Greenwood faced racism from those in neighboring white communities, and the tension hit a fever pitch in 1921, when 19-year-old Dick Rowland, who was Black, was apprehended by police on May 31, for allegedly assaulting a 17-year-old white elevator operator, Sarah Page, inside an office building on South Main Street. Accounts differ as to what occurred between the two — some say he accidentally stepped on her foot when entering the elevator, causing her to scream — but the encounter sparked widespread outrage among white people, who rioted and destroyed Black Wall Street, which never fully recovered from the incident.

After Rowland was arrested, an armed white mob spent 24 hours looting and burning homes, schools, libraries, movie theaters, and other businesses. Eyewitnesses reported seeing planes hovering overhead as buildings burne d from the top down on the streets below. Scores of Black people were shot and killed by white people, many of whom were given weapons by police. Historians believe as many as 300 people were murdered, but there will probably never be an accurate death toll. According to The Ringer, eyewitnesses say they saw bodies piled onto trucks and dumped in unmarked graves

In the massacre’s aftermath, 35 city blocks were left in charred ruins and 10,000 people were homeless. After the rampage, many Black Tulsans left the city in fear for their safety. And many Black and white residents who remained in Tulsa stayed silent about the tragedy for decades. As time passed, vivid details about the massacre faded. No one was convicted for the incident, including Rowland. To this day, questions about the scope of the attack, including how many people carried out the violence and the degree of government involvement, remain unanswered.

I first learned about the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre on Tumblr, sometime during high school, while aimlessly scrolling down my feed. I saw jarring photos of houses engulfed in flames. Despite having taken AP U.S. history in high school, no teacher had taught my classes anything about the destruction of Black Wall Street.

I’m not the only one who was left in the dark about this crucial piece of history. The State Department of Education has required the topic be taught in Oklahoma history classes since 2000, but the rampage didn’t first appear in the state’s school books until 2009

During President’s Day weekend this year, I had the opportunity to travel to Tulsa with the George Kaiser Family Foundation, a charitable organization based in the city, focused on providing equal opportunities for young children from varied socioeconomic backgrounds. Going into the trip, I didn’t have many expectations, but I at least thought the history of Black Wall Street would be well-preserved. What I saw was remarkably different. Through talking to Tulsa locals and conducting my own research, I learned more about how the city came to be — and how it was the perfect place for a community like Greenwood to flourish. Before Oklahoma was seized from indigenous peoples by colonial settlers, what is present-day Tulsa was inhabited by the Creek. Tulsa’s name was lifted from the Creek language, and the city was officially incorporated in 1898. At the turn of the 20th century, Tulsa experienced an oil boom and its population ballooned from about 1,300 to more than 140,000 residents in 40 years.

Seeing a massive economic opportunity, O.W. Gurley, a wealthy Black educator and entrepreneur from Arkansas, who’s credited as the earliest pioneer of Black Wall Street, bought 40 acres on the northern outskirts of Tulsa. He sold pockets of the land to African-Americans who developed a small community that eventually blossomed into the success story that ended so tragically.

After the massacre, Greenwood was rebuilt from the ground up and was thriving again by the 1940s. However, the progress was short-lived. Some Black Tulsans had relocated. The Black dollar no longer stayed in the community, as Black people had more options to shop in other places and took their patronage elsewhere. This weakened the strength of Black-owned businesses and the financial stability of the neighborhood overall. Then urban renewal projects of the 1960s razed substandard buildings, including those in Greenwood, which were torn down to create a new highway. All over the city, small businesses were squeezed out by large retailers, but Black business owners were especially affected, as architect Joe L. Robinson, who designed a restoration project in the neighborhood, told The Oklahoman in 1985. As a result, by the end of the 1970s, little remained of the original district.

In the decades since the Tulsa Race Massacre, Black residents continue to grapple with countless inequities. Today, many of the city’s low-income Black people reside on the north side, with second-rate housing and a dearth of grocery stores, and white communities inhabit the bustling midtown and south side. Such disparities affect overall quality of life, job opportunities, and life expectancy.

When I visited the area, it looked to me like Williamsburg, a gentrified neighborhood in Brooklyn. There appeared to be a lack of Black-owned businesses and plenty of new establishments. But there are countless community leaders, activists, and artists in Tulsa who I met during my four-day trip who are all glimmers of hope in keeping the spirit of Black Wall Street alive.

In 2018, on North Greenwood Avenue, Ricco Wright opened the Black Wall Street Gallery to showcase the work of local Black visual artists, some of whom belong to the artist collective, Black Moon. Through the power of art, Wright aims to use the space to not only display art but also to facilitate dialogue between white and Black communities grappling with the city’s racist past.

“At the end of the day, we have to find ways to rectify issues of yesteryear. We can’t overlook our history,” he tells Teen Vogue. “It’s affecting all of us. It’s not just Black people affected by the massacre. There were white people affected by it. The history has been concealed for decades. All of us have been affected.”

One of the few places left partially intact after the massacre was Vernon Chapel African Methodist Episcopal Church. As in most Black communities, the church served as a sacred space for worship, but also a place of healing.

“Several people tried to buy us out, but we still have been able to manage financially,” Reverend Dr. Robert Turner, the new pastor of historic Vernon AME Church, told us on the trip, as he stood in one of the rooms that’s been untouched since the 1920s. “There’s recently been a resurgence in membership, and we thank God for it. As long as I’m here, this is where we will be.”

Being able to tour that space was an honor. But it also deeply saddened me to see that out of all the places that once existed in the neighborhood, that was one of very few that were still standing. Black Tulsans deserve better.

Meanwhile, the city continues its rebirth, reconciling its dark past. Brady Street, a major road in the downtown area that was named after W. Tate Brady, one of the city’s founders and a former Klansman, was in 2018 renamed “Reconciliation Way.” That same year, Kansas City artist Scribe Ross was commissioned to paint a mural near the Greenwood Cultural Center to commemorate Black Wall Street.

Many of the Black Tulsans I met with were passionate about reclaiming the narrative about what happened to their ancestors. Instead of referring to the destruction of Greenwood as a “race riot,” as it was originally labeled, primarily so insurance companies didn’t have to pay for the burned homes and businesses, and implying both parties were fighting each other, they now insist we call it what it actually was: a massacre, which I believe truly illustrates what happened.

Additionally, some of the community groups I spoke with on the ground shared in the hope of seeing the city pay reparations for the massacre, but acknowledged the difficulty of getting monetary retribution for victims of the event since one of the last remaining survivors passed last year. In 2003, when the Reparations Coordinating Committee tried to get reparations for those who had lost homes and businesses in the attack, the United States District Court for Northern Oklahoma dismissed their lawsuit, essentially saying that it was too late to seek justice for what happened.

As a nation, it’s due time we tell the truth about what happened to the residents of Greenwood. During its peak, Black Wall Street was a symbol of Black achievement, filled with successful Black people from all walks of life. Their legacies and resilience deserve to be honored in the same vein.

Son of Baldwin: The Tulsa Genocide of 1921

Today in 1921 was the first time bombs were ever dropped on U.S. soil.

On May 31 and June 1, 1921, the white residents of Tulsa, Oklahoma declared war on the black residents of Tulsa, Oklahoma.

Using a manufactured a story that falsely accused a black man of raping a white woman, the white residents of Tulsa united and waged a devastating military assault against the black residents using decommissioned World War I aircraft to bomb them into oblivion.

Over the course of two days, hundreds were killed, hundreds more were injured, and the war’s goal of destroying the thriving, economically self-sufficient black community known as “Little Africa” or “Black Wall Street” was accomplished.

White historians refer to this event as the Tulsa Race Riot of 1921 in order to minimize what occurred, disguise the true nature of the violence, and suggest that the black residents and white residents were equally culpable in said events. Some of these historians continue to deny that there was any use of aircraft or bombs, contrary to the eyewitness accounts from survivors.

I refer to this military assault as the Tulsa Genocide of 1921 in order better communicate the true purpose of the heinous actions.

School textbooks continue to erase this event and continue to promote the lie that the first bombing of U.S. soil was committed by foreigners (Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor during World War II) as a means to preserve a chilling yet seductive American “innocence.”

But now you know better.

Move about Tulsa.

Vox: Why a US city is searching for mass graves

History: Rosewood Massacre

The Rosewood Massacre was an attack on the predominantly African-American town of Rosewood, Florida, in 1923 by large groups of whites. The town was entirely destroyed by the end of the violence, and the residents were driven out permanently. The story was mostly forgotten until the 1980s, when it was revived and brought to public attention.


Though it was originally settled in 1845 by both blacks and whites, black codes and Jim Crow laws in the years after the Civil War fostered segregation in Rosewood (and much of the South).

Employment was provided by pencil factories, but the cedar tree population soon became decimated and white families moved away in the 1890s and settled in the nearby town of Sumner.

By the 1920s, Rosewood’s population of about 200 was entirely made up of black citizens, except for one white family that ran the general store there.


On January 1, 1923, in Sumner, Florida, 22-year-old Fannie Taylor was heard screaming by a neighbor. The neighbor found Taylor covered in bruises and claiming a black man had entered the house and assaulted her.

The incident was reported to Sheriff Robert Elias Walker, with Taylor specifying that she had not been raped.

Fannie Taylor’s husband, James Taylor, a foreman at the local mill, escalated the situation by gathering an angry mob of white citizens to hunt down the culprit. He also called for help from whites in neighboring counties, among them a group of about 500 Ku Klux Klan members who were in Gainesville for a rally. The white mobs prowled the area woods searching for any black man they might find.

Law enforcement found out that a black prisoner named Jesse Hunter had escaped a chain gang, and immediately designated him a suspect. The mobs focused their searches on Hunter, convinced that he was being hidden by the black residents.


Searchers were led by dogs to the home of Aaron Carrier in Rosewood. Carrier was the nephew of Sarah Carrier, who did the laundry for Taylor.

The horde of white men dragged Carrier out of his house, tied him to a car and dragged him to Sumner, where he was cut loose and beaten.

Sheriff Walker intervened, putting Carrier in his car and driving him to Gainesville, where he was placed under the protective custody of the sheriff there.


Another mob showed up at the home of blacksmith Sam Carter, torturing him until he admitted that he was hiding Hunter and agreed to take them to the hiding spot.

Carter led them into the woods, but when Hunter failed to appear, someone in the mob shot him. His body was hung on a tree before the mob moved on.

The sheriff’s office had attempted and failed to break up white mobs and advised black workers to stay in their places of employment for safety.


As many as 25 people, mostly children, had taken refuge in the home of Sarah Carrier when, on the night of January 4, armed whites surrounded the house in the belief that Jesse Hunter was hiding there.

Shots were fired in the ensuing confrontation: Sarah Carrier was shot in the head and died, and her son Sylvester was also killed by a gun wound. Two white attackers were also killed.

The gun battle and standoff lasted overnight. It ended when the door was broken down by white attackers. The children inside the house escaped through the back and made their way to safety through the woods, where they hid.


News of the standoff at the Carrier house spread, with newspapers inflating the number dead and falsely reporting bands of armed black citizens going on a rampage. Even more white men poured into the area believing that a race war had broken out.

Some of the first targets of this influx were the churches in Rosewood, which were burned down. Houses were then attacked, first setting fire to them and then shooting people as they escaped from the burning buildings.

Lexie Gordon was one of those murdered, taking a gunshot to her face as she hid under her burning house. Gordon had sent her children fleeing when white attackers approached but suffering from typhoid fever, she stayed behind.

Many Rosewood citizens fled to the nearby swamps for safety, spending days hiding in them. Some attempted to leave the swamps but were turned back by men working for the sheriff.

James Carrier, brother of Sylvester and son of Sarah, did manage to get out of the swamp and take refuge with the help of a local turpentine factory manager. A white mob found him anyhow and forced him to dig a grave for himself before murdering him.

Others found help from white families willing to shelter them.


Some black women and children escaped thanks to John and William Bryce, two wealthy brothers who owned a train.

Aware of the violence in Rosewood and familiar with the population, the brothers drove their train to the area and invited escapees, though refused to take in black men, afraid of being attacked by white mobs.

Many of those who fled by train had been hidden in the home of the white general store owner, John Wright, and continued to do so throughout the violence. Sheriff Walker helped terrified residents make their way to Wright, who would then arrange escape with the help of the Bryce brothers.


Florida Governor Cary Hardee offered to send the National Guard to help, but Sheriff Walker declined the help, believing he had the situation under control.

Mobs began to disperse after several days, but on January 7, many returned to finish off the town, burning what little remained of it to the ground, except for the home of John Wright.

A special grand jury and a special prosecutor were appointed by the governor to investigate the violence. The jury heard the testimonies of nearly 30 witnesses, mostly white, over several days, but claimed to not find enough evidence for prosecution.

The surviving citizens of Rosewood did not return, fearful that the horrific bloodshed would recur.


The story of Rosewood faded away quickly. Most newspapers stopped reporting on it soon after the violence had ceased, and many survivors kept quiet about their experience, even to subsequent family members.

Colfax Massacre

  • 1872 Democratic candidates stole election in ‎Colfax, LA
    • Widely recognized as fraudulent, including by a fed judge
      • Black protestors refused to recognize illegitimate election results
      • Staged a peaceful occupation of the town courthouse
  • 300 white militia men attacked the courthouse
    • Unarmed black men hiding, fleeing or attempting to surrender were killed
    • 50 black people were taken prisoner/executed by militia
    • 150 African Americans were killed in the massacre
    • “The bloodiest single act of carnage in all of Reconstruction.”
  • The local narrative praises the violence
    • 1921: town erected a memorial to the 3 white heroes
      • Who died fighting for white supremacy
    • 1950: state erected monument calling the massacre
      • a carpetbagger riot
    • Today, Colfax is a town of less than 2000 people
      • Both markers still stand

When white supremacists overthrew a government (Wilmington, NC)

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Non Black Lynching

Lynchings of Mexican Nationals


  • 1849-1928: mass lynchings in Southern border states
    • Targeting Mexican nationals/Mexican Americans
    • 547 cases were documented
      • Estimated that thousands of Latinos were lynched
    • Many were shot en mass or lynched by mob, local law officers, Texas Rangers
  • Often occurred after allegation of crime
    • But often for social transgressions or economic competition
    • Often used for white economic, political, social dominance in border areas acquired by US from war with Mexico
      • Forced Mexican residents of new territory to flee
        • Allowing whites to seize their land/natural resources

PBS (Short Video): The Birth and Growth of Racism against Mexican-Americans

Discrimination and Lynching

  • Pacific Railroad Recruitment
    • Railroad companies recruited Mexicans to immigrate to build Pacific Railroad
    • Latinos (citizens and non citizens) were critical to the US economy
  • Anti-Latino sentiment grew along with immigration
    • Anglo-Americans treated Latinos as a foreign underclass
      • Perpetuated stereotypes that those who spoke Spanish were lazy, stupid, undeserving
      • Barred from Anglo establishments
      • Segregated into urban barrios in poor areas
    • In some cases, that prejudice turned fatal
      • Mob violence against Latinos were common in late 19th and early 20th centuries
      • 547 documented cases but estimated that thousands were lynched
      • Many lynching cases occurred over the California Gold Rush
        • Accusations of murder, fraternizing w/ white women, insulting white people, removing competition
      • Mexican gov pressured US to stop these lynching in the 1920s
        • The lynchings decreased but the racism remained

“nativism was born in the months of 1849 and early 1850 when mining enterprise was most individualistic, government most ineffectual, and immigration most rapid.” scholar Leonard Pitt

Lynchings of Asian Americans

Chinese Exclusion Act and the “Driving Out” Era

  • Yellow Peril
    • 19th century, US rapid industrialization, leads to labor shortages in mining and rail industries
      • Chinese immigrant labor was often used to fill this gap leading to large-scale Chinese immigration
        • Construction of the First Transcontinental Railroad
        • Chinese immigrants were despised because they took the jobs of whites for cheaper pay
          • Weekly newspapers and labor parties began negatively stereotyping Chinese
        • Phrase “Yellow Peril” claimed demise of Western Civilization from Chinese immigrants gained popularity
          • Chinese immigrants suffered from discrimination to violence
  • Chinese Exclusion Act
    • 1882 Chinese Exclusion Act banned Chinese immigration to the United States until 1943
      • First time a law excluded a major group from the nation based on ethnicity
    • Between 19-20th centuries over 600 pieces of anti-Asian legislation
      • limiting Asians from citizenship, culture, land ownership, and economic opportunities
      • Non-citizens had almost no rights
        • Whites could kill Asians with impunity because they could not testify in court
  • “Driving Out” era
    • Following Chinese Exclusion act many incidents of violence and ethnic cleansing occurred against Chinese
      • including forced removals of the Chinese from Cherry Creek, Colorado; Tacoma, Washington; Tombstone, Arizona; Rock Spring, , Wyoming; and Redlands, and California
      • A popular saying came into the American lexicon “He doesn’t stand a Chinaman’s chance.”

Wikipedia: Chinese massacre of 1871

The Chinese massacre of 1871 was a race riot that occurred on October 24, 1871, in Los Angeles, California, when a mob of around 500 white and mestizo persons entered Chinatown and attacked, robbed, and murdered Chinese residents.[1][2] The massacre took place on Calle de los Negros (Street of the Negroes) also referred to as “Negro Alley”. The mob gathered after hearing that a policeman had been shot and a rancher killed by Chinese.

An estimated 17 to 20 Chinese immigrants were hanged by the mob in the course of the riot, but most had already been shot to death. At least one was mutilated, when someone cut off a finger to get his diamond ring. Ten men of the mob were prosecuted and eight were convicted of manslaughter in these deaths. The convictions were overturned on appeal due to technicalities.

Chinese lynched in California in the 1800s | Chinese massacre of 1871

Further Reading

VOA: Remembering Native American Lynching Victims

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White Sexual Terrorism

“Throughout the Jim Crow era white men lured black women and girls away from home with promises of steady work and better wages; attacked them on the job; abducted them at gunpoint while traveling to or from home, work, or church; raped them as a form of retribution or to enforce rules of racial and economic hierarchy” historian Danielle L. McGuire – At the Dark End of the Street: Black Women, Rape, and Resistance

  • During Jim Crow black women lived in constant threat of sexual assault and complete lack of legal protection
    • The same communities that lynched black men for allegations of sexual misconduct against white women
      • Tolerated and excused white men’s sexual attacks against black women and girls
      • “aggressive hypersexual African femininity portrayals served both to exonerate White men of their inhumane rages and to mask their human attractions to the supposed beast-like women. …Like raped prostitutes, Black women’s credibility had been stolen by racist beliefs in their hypersexuality.” Ibram Kendi, Stamped From the Beginning
    • White sexual terror was for the most part left out of Jim Crow’s history
      • “There is little visual record of the interracial rape of black women, save for photographs of them clutching their obviously biracial children.” historian Danielle L. McGuire
  • The Rape of Recy Taylor (Abbeville, Alabama in 1944)
    • Taylor was walking home from church when she was kidnapped, blindfolded, raped at gunpoint by 6 white men
      • She reported the crime and Rosa Parks came to help advocate for justice
      • The police ignore her claims, her house was firebombed and the sheriff personally threaten Ms. Parks to leave town
    • This was the norm during Jim Crow as thousands of black women were raped by white men with no justice
      • “Between 1940-65, only 10 white men were convicted of raping black women/girls in Mississippi despite the fact that it happened regularly” historian Danielle L. McGuire
  • Black women’s resistance to racialized sexual assault helped start the civil rights movement
    • Ida B Wells, Mary Church Terrell, Nannie Helen Burroughs and Anna Julia Cooper were early anti-rape activists
    • Rosa Parks began her career in civil rights as an anti-rape activist

“If you have a slave culture for hundreds of years, what happens when slavery ends? Does the culture change? That was part of my question doing this research, and the answer was of course it didn’t. White men were raised to believe that they could do whatever they wanted to do to black women and there would be no punishment, and when they did whatever they wanted to do, there usually wasn’t a punishment. These are lessons handed down from grandparents and fathers, uncles. They were encouraged to get a black woman for their first sex act so that they could practice … in the ’40s, they just picked them up on the side of the road just like Recy Taylor. It happened all the time.” historian Danielle L. McGuire

EJI: Segregation in America


In Abbeville, Alabama, on a September night in 1944, a gang of white men kidnapped and took turns raping Recy Taylor, a young, black, married mother, at gunpoint. After the attack, the men blindfolded Mrs. Taylor, drove her back to the road, and left her to walk home.234

For generations of black women, racial terror included the constant threat of sexual assault and a complete lack of legal protection. “[T]hroughout the Jim Crow era,” wrote historian Danielle L. McGuire, “white men lured black women and girls away from home with promises of steady work and better wages; attacked them on the job; abducted them at gunpoint while traveling to or from home, work, or church; raped them as a form of retribution or to enforce rules of racial and economic hierarchy; sexually humiliated and assaulted them on streetcars and buses, in taxicabs and trains, and in other public spaces.”235

Black women’s resistance to this racialized sexual exploitation helped birth the activism and organized community action that grew into the Civil Rights Movement — even as they bore some of the era’s deepest scars. Between 1940 and 1975, civil rights campaigns in major cities throughout the South were sparked by sexual attacks against black women.236 When a local grand jury refused to indict Recy Taylor’s attackers, despite a confession, the Montgomery NAACP launched an investigation and campaign for justice spearheaded by future bus boycott leader Rosa Parks. None of Mrs. Taylor’s attackers was held accountable.237

The same communities that lynched and legally executed black men for mere allegations of sexual misconduct against white women tolerated and excused white men’s sexual attacks against black women and girls. In May 1956, after four white men kidnapped and raped 16-year-old Annette Butler in Tylertown, Mississippi, only one faced any punishment. At sentencing, Judge Thomas Pickens Brady — a vocal segregationist — scolded the defendant not for committing rape, but for bringing upon himself the shame of interracial sexual relations: “No action could be more in contrast with the beliefs of the segregationist.” 238

After South Carolina senator Strom Thurmond died in 2003 at age 101, the public learned that, at 22, he had fathered the child of an underage black girl.239 To some, it was a shocking revelation that seemed to conflict with Thurmond’s 70-year political career spent fervently defending racial separation, inequality, and the superiority of the white race. For others, it was tragically predictable.

“[I]n a climate characterized by fear and abject racial intimidation, the question of whether Carrie Butler, an impoverished maid in the Thurmond family household, freely consented is virtually meaningless,” legal scholar Kimberle Williams Crenshaw wrote in 2004. “The more telling question is whether there was any way she could freely say no…. The protection law promised was empty; after all, statutory rape laws were not written to protect girls like Butler.”240

The story of opposition to the cause of civil rights cannot be separated from the plight of generations of black women whose sexual victimization went unpunished, because those who condoned that abuse were the same men who defended segregation and fought against racial equality.

In 1965, the Honolulu Advertiser profiled Jim Clark, the notorious sheriff of Dallas County, Alabama. Clark told the reporter, “We got a sayin’ down here that every nigger baby girl born is a 12 year old—.” The newspaper cut off the quote, but explained that Clark used an unprintable word. His meaning was that every Negro girl who has reached puberty is fair game for a white man.“”

The Undefeated: ‘The Rape of Recy Taylor’ explores the little-known terror campaign against black women

Just as black men were lynched, black women faced systemic sexual violence under Jim Crow

“For Southern black women, the era of separate but equal was also a decades-long reign of white sexual terror. If Southern trees bore strange fruit, the homes and streets they shaded contained secrets that until recently have largely been swept over and ignored.

The Rape of Recy Taylor, a documentary that opens in New York theaters Friday, concentrates some much-needed sunlight on this period of American history and the women who lived through it. Directed by Nancy Buirski, the woman behind both the narrative film Loving and the documentary The Loving Story, The Rape of Recy Taylor brings attention to a little-discussed but common reality for black women in the Jim Crow South: racially motivated rape by white men.

Taylor lived in the small town of Abbeville, Alabama. In 1944, when she was 24, Taylor was walking home from church when she was kidnapped, blindfolded and raped at gunpoint by six white men. Forced to beg for her life, Taylor promised to stay silent so she could go home to her husband and 9-month-old daughter.

But Taylor wasn’t silent. Left on the side of a dark country road, Taylor walked home and told her family about what happened. Rosa Parks, who began her career in civil rights as an anti-rape activist, came to Abbeville to agitate for the prosecution of Taylor’s attackers. For their troubles, Taylor’s home was firebombed, forcing her and her family to move in with relatives. When the family turned to the police, they found no refuge. Rather than pursuing justice, Abbeville’s sheriff circled the home of Taylor’s relatives, eventually stopping to drag Parks out and threaten her with jail if she did not leave town.

It’s a horrifying account, made worse by two startling facts:

1) Taylor’s rape was not an exceptional occurrence. It was part of a continuous campaign of terror that was just as much a threat to women as lynching was to black men.

2) The history of black women as victims of white terror has largely been ignored, silenced and minimized, even as their quest for safety fueled their pursuit of civil rights as far back as the 1890s.

What happened to Taylor and countless other black women and the obscurity of their story within the broader narrative of American history is emblematic of the way black women’s trauma is repeatedly given short shrift even today. The absence of black women from the spotlight of #MeToo has historical roots that predate Taylor’s rape. Taylor’s story isn’t just about her. It’s about thousands of women just like her whose stories we may never know, who were victimized and brutalized without recognition or recompense for their injuries.

A campaign of terror

Buirski’s documentary focuses on Taylor’s life and the devastation that followed her attack: Her marriage fell apart, she was unable to have more children and her only child died in her early 20s in a car crash. The book that inspired the film is far more expansive and devastating. Historian Danielle McGuire spent a decade researching At the Dark End of the Street: Black Women, Rape, and Resistance — a New History of the Civil Rights Movement from Rosa Parks to the Rise of Black Power. She writes of more than 40 separate cases but insists there are far more stories that went untold, calling her work “the tiniest tip of the iceberg.”

“Between 1940 and 1965,” McGuire wrote, “only 10 white men were convicted of raping black women or girls in Mississippi despite the fact that it happened regularly.” It was rare for white men to be arrested for attacking black women, and even less likely for all-white grand juries to indict them. Convictions were even rarer.

“These are not just bad apples,” McGuire told me during a recent interview. “This is part of a systemic approach to dehumanizing black women and girls.”

In one chapter, McGuire detailed an attack against Melba Pattillo, a 12-year-old Arkansas girl. A white man chased her into the woods, tried to pull off her underwear and rape her, and yelled, “I’ll show you n—-s the Supreme Court can’t run my life.” The attack happened on May 17, 1954, the afternoon the Supreme Court announced its decision in Brown v. Board of Education.

In the same chapter, McGuire recounted the story of Annette Butler. On Mother’s Day 1956, four men in Tylertown, Mississippi — Ernest Dillon, Ollie Dillon (his brother) and their friends Olen Duncan and Durora Duncan (who were cousins) — went searching for a black woman to rape. Armed with a shotgun, they entered the house of Stennis Butler, a black sharecropper, and took his 16-year-old daughter, Annette, holding off her mother at gunpoint. The men drove her away deep into a swamp, raped her, then left her to find her own way home. They were charged with “forcible ravishment and kidnap.” Ernest Dillon pleaded guilty to assault and was sentenced to 20 years in prison. The other three men served no jail time for rape. One pleaded guilty to kidnapping, another was acquitted despite a confession and the third had his charges dismissed after his trial produced a hung jury.

At best, white law enforcement officials were lackadaisical about investigating sexual assaults on black women. At worst, they were perpetrating such assaults, not only on public streets but also in jails.

In March 1949, Gertrude Perkins, 25, was assaulted by two Montgomery, Alabama, police officers. She was walking home in the dark when they stopped her, accused her of public drunkenness and forced her into their car. They drove, McGuire wrote, to the edge of a railroad embankment and raped her at gunpoint.

Even if men were convicted of rape, the political system found ways to excuse them. According to Trouble in Mind: Black Southerners in the Age of Jim Crow, Cole Blease, the governor of South Carolina from 1910-14, made prolific use of his pardoning powers, issuing 1,700 during his tenure. Blease pardoned both black and white men who had been convicted of attacking black women and girls. In an official pardoning statement, Blease stated, “I am of the opinion, as I have always been, and have very serious doubt as to whether the crime of rape can be committed upon a negro.”

McGuire details how rape was used with lynching to terrorize and subjugate black people in the years leading up to and during the civil rights movement. Other historians, such as Darlene Clark Hine, have stated that the onslaught of interracial sexual violence visited upon Southern black women during Jim Crow was just as much a motivator for the Great Migration as lynching was.

“If you have a slave culture for hundreds of years, what happens when slavery ends?” McGuire said. “Does the culture change? That was part of my question doing this research, and the answer was of course it didn’t. White men were raised to believe that they could do whatever they wanted to do to black women and there would be no punishment, and when they did whatever they wanted to do, there usually wasn’t a punishment. These are lessons handed down from grandparents and fathers, uncles. They were encouraged to get a black woman for their first sex act so that they could practice … in the ’40s, they just picked them up on the side of the road just like Recy Taylor.

“It happened all the time.”

Disappearing history

If the violation of black women was so widespread that it contributed to one of the most monumental migration patterns in American history, why don’t more people know about it? How did our understanding of black women and interracial rape begin with slavery and end largely with the conclusion of the Civil War?

There are multiple reasons for this absence: Race men like Booker T. Washington didn’t think civil rights organizations had a role to play in protecting black women from rape. White women’s organizations were equally reluctant to acknowledge that their husbands and sons were attacking black women. White women like Rebecca Latimer Felton, America’s first female senator, not only ginned up fear that black men were raping white women en masse, they sucked away attention from the real epidemic of rape that was actually occurring.

Furthermore, the documentation of abuse was limited. Often, stories of abuse were passed down orally by grandmothers and mothers. Even now, it’s difficult for historians to find detailed, written accounts of these attacks. McGuire referred to it as “detective work.”

And these threats weren’t memorialized in song, as was lynching in Billie Holiday’s 1939 recording of “Strange Fruit.” If there were references, they were so oblique as to require their own decoder ring.

Even in places dedicated to telling the story of black American history such as the National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington, D.C., or the Great Blacks in Wax Museum in Baltimore, there is limited acknowledgment of interracial rape during Jim Crow, and certainly not as a reality endemic to black Southern life.

The Blacks in Wax Museum has an entire room dedicated to the horrors of lynching, which includes a re-creation of the murder of Mary Turner and her 8-month-old fetus in Brooks County, Georgia, but nothing specifically about the rape of black women during Jim Crow. The Blacksonian does include displays of news clippings about the assaults on Taylor in 1944 and Perkins in 1949. And it also produced videos that include quotes from Ida B. Wells and Dorothy Height about the threat black women faced.

While black women such as Wells, Mary Church Terrell, Nannie Helen Burroughs and Anna Julia Cooper were all devoted to mobilizing to secure black women’s safety from sexual violence in the 1890s, they’re remembered chiefly as anti-lynching activists or as buttoned-up practitioners of respectability politics. The same goes for their ideological sisters who came later, like Parks and Height.

In her speech as the first president of the National Association of Colored Women, Terrell addressed their estrangement from the rest of society.

“We wish to set in motion influences that shall stop the ravages made by practices that sap our strength, and preclude the possibility of advancement,” she said, referring to rape by white men.

Cooper bitterly implicated black men in black women’s victimization. “It is absurd,” she said in 1892 in A Voice From the South, “to quote statistics showing the Negro’s bank account and rent rolls, to point to the hundreds of newspapers edited by colored men, and lists of lawyers, doctors, professors, D.D.’s L.L.D.’s etc. etc. etc while the source from which the life-blood of the race is to flow is subject to the taint and corruption of the enemy’s camp.”

While the national office of the NAACP was working to dismantle separate-but-equal, the organization determined that any mention of interracial marriage or sex would derail its efforts. “Everything had to be as asexual as possible,” McGuire said. “Working on rape cases of black women who had been assaulted by white men would screw that up.”

There is so much photographic evidence of lynching, in part because it was a public spectacle, complete with photographers who profited from the murder of black people the way modern artists might sell concert posters. Genitals and other body parts of black men were preserved in jars and kept as mementos. Their charred bodies, hanging from trees, served as ominous warnings to other black people that they best remember their place.

But there is little visual record of the interracial rape of black women, save for photographs of them clutching their obviously biracial children. In The Rape of Recy Taylor, Buirski offers these images as a small record of an enormous epidemic.

We use art to document and memorialize the human condition. But the art that preserves the experience of black women during Jim Crow is limited and often deliberately opaque. The race films of the early 20th century are among the few remaining cultural artifacts that re-created black women’s experiences under threat from white men. Buirski employs their footage in her documentary.

But, by and large, the work of tracking and quantifying interracial sexual assault is difficult for historians. The language referring to such attacks in first-person accounts is often not explicit, although news clippings from the black press were clearer. Furthermore, there was a concerted effort to silence and discredit black female victims. That silencing was often twofold: first in the primary documents, such as white newspapers and police reports, and then again by white historians and archivists who may have deemed such accounts unworthy of preservation. In Taylor’s case, her attackers slandered and dismissed her as a prostitute whom they paid.

“There wasn’t a good uniform record keeping of these kinds of assaults, largely because of racist police forces that didn’t take black women’s stories seriously, and also because a lot of these assailants were police officers,” McGuire said. “Sometimes within their own community there would be perhaps shame and silence in coming forward for a crime like this just because of the gender politics of the time, which were not limited to racial groups.”

When sexual violation was recorded, survivors often recounted their experiences through allusion. A woman might not say she was raped, but that a man “talked under my dress” or “played with my body.”

While “Strange Fruit,” the dirge made famous by Holiday, is the most recognizable protest song of the lynching era, there is no such work from the era that deals so explicitly with the threat of rape. Instead, in the same way historians must read between the lines of slave narratives, oral histories and other accounts of rape, so too must those examining art of the era. And so songs such as Nina Simone’s chilling rendition of “Pirate Jenny” and Aretha Franklin’s “At the Dark End of the Street” take on more sinister undertones when interpreted through this lens. They’re both songs appropriated by black women to tell different stories from the ones they were originally telling. The difference in tone, phrasing and the style in which these songs are sung is designed to evoke a dark, unsettling horror.

That sort of opaque doublespeak was another form of self-preservation. Anything other than silence could be punished with death. Remember, Taylor’s attackers firebombed her home because she told her husband what happened to her. Just as it was de rigueur to ignore that slaveholders owned fair-skinned children who bore their features and mannerisms, it became standard to look at black women during Jim Crow and ignore the obvious source of their lighter-skinned children.

Modern implications

There are through lines from the epidemic of sexual assault during Jim Crow to our modern era. The most obvious may be the case of Daniel Holtzclaw, the Oklahoma police officer who sexually preyed on poor women of color with criminal records. His predation was directly connected to the way law enforcement made black women’s lives worse. If black women weren’t directly victimized by police, their assaults weren’t taken seriously, which is why white men were so rarely prosecuted for them.

Even the current #MeToo moment is different for white and black women.

“I think the floodgates have opened for white women,” actress Gabrielle Union recently told The New York Times about #MeToo. “I don’t think it’s a coincidence whose pain has been taken seriously. Whose pain we have showed historically and continued to show. Whose pain is tolerable and whose pain is intolerable. And whose pain needs to be addressed now.”

The Equal Justice Initiative is behind the national lynching memorial that will open in 2018 in Montgomery. An official from EJI told me the organization has plans for “an entire section dedicated to the sexual exploitation of black women, including Ms. Recy Taylor” in its Legacy Museum, which will open on April 26. But it doesn’t appear that there are plans to include sexual violence against black women in the lynching memorial, which will exist alongside the museum.

“I don’t think they need to be separate because, again, it’s part of the same terror structure, systematic terror against black people,” McGuire said. “Part of the issue that I’ve always had with cold case civil rights investigations and even in some ways the Equal Justice Initiative’s focus on lynching is that it becomes heavily gendered and is another way of kind of disappearing black women’s experiences under a regime of white supremacy and American apartheid. By focusing on those kinds of cases only, we’re not getting a full picture of the reign of terror that existed and that was inflicted upon black communities and black bodies. It ends up focusing on what happened to black men.”

Even as she was decrying lynching, Wells made a similar point in 1900 to a crowd gathered in Chicago.

“The negro has been too long associated with the white man not to have copied his vices as well as his virtues,” Wells said. “But the negro resents and utterly repudiates the efforts to blacken his good name by asserting that assaults upon women are peculiar to his race. The negro has suffered far more from the commission of this crime against the women of his race by white men than the white race has ever suffered through his crimes. Very scant notice is taken of the matter when this is the condition of affairs. What becomes a crime deserving capital punishment when the tables are turned is a matter of small moment when the negro woman is the accusing party.”

The way these stories were silenced reinforces a social hierarchy that contends black women should be grateful for attention from white men, even if it’s unsolicited or unwanted. Worse, it tells the world that black women and the assaults on us simply don’t matter. Ignoring this area of history has enormously harmful consequences, feeding into how we process accusations of sexual assault from black women today.

The rape of Recy Taylor and so many other unnamed, unrecognized and unheard black women reminds me of Cooper’s words from 1892: “Only the black woman can say ‘when and where I enter, in the quiet, undisputed dignity of my womanhood, without violence and without suing or special patronage, then and there the whole … race enters with me.’

Further reading:

At the Dark End of the Street: Black Women, Rape, and Resistance — a New History of the Civil Rights Movement from Rosa Parks to the Rise of Black Power by Danielle McGuire

Southern Horrors: Women and the Politics of Rape and Lynching by Crystal Feimster

Beyond Respectability: The Intellectual Thought of Race Women by Brittney C. Cooper

The American Slave Coast: A History of the Slave-Breeding Industry by Constance and Ned Sublette

Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl by Harriet Jacobs

Blues Legacies and Black Feminism: Gertrude “Ma” Rainey, Bessie Smith, and Billie Holiday by Angela Davis

When and Where I Enter: The Impact of Black Women on Race and Sex in America by Paula Giddings

Gender and Jim Crow: Women and the Politics of White Supremacy in North Carolina, 1896-1920 by Glenda Elizabeth Gilmore

Too Heavy a Load: Black Women in Defense of Themselves by Deborah Gray White

All the Women are White, All the Blacks are Men, But Some of Us are Brave edited by Gloria T. Hull, Patricia Bell Scott, and Barbara Smith

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Anti-Lynching Movement


  • Ida B Wells
    • After her 3 friends were lynched in 1892
      • Wells became one of nation’s most vocal anti-lynching activists
    • Wells launched an extensive investigation of lynching
      • 1892, published “Southern Horrors,” which detailed her findings
    • Wells countered “rape myth” used by lynch mobs to justify
      • She found lynch victims usually had:
        • Challenged white authority
        • Had successfully competed with whites in business or politics
      • A mob destroyed her office and threatened to kill Wells
        • Fled Memphis to continue campaign raising awareness of southern lynching
        • Established the British Anti-Lynching Society in 1894

BlackPast: Ida B Wells

“Activist and writer Ida B. Wells-Barnett first became prominent in the 1890s because she brought international attention to the lynching of African Americans in the South. Wells was born a slave in Holly Springs, Mississippi, in 1862. At the age of 16, she became primary caregiver to her six brothers and sisters, when both of her parents succumbed to yellow fever.  After completing her studies Rust College near Holly Springs where her father had sat on the board of trustees before his death, Wells divided her time between caring for her siblings and teaching school. She moved to Memphis, Tennessee in the 1880s.

Wells first began protesting the treatment of black southerners when, on a train ride between Memphis and her job at a rural school, the conductor told her that she must move to the train’s smoking car. Wells refused, arguing that she had purchased a first-class ticket. The conductor and other passengers then tried to physically remove her from the train. Wells returned to Memphis, hired a lawyer, and sued the Chesapeake and Ohio Railroad Company. The court decided in her favor, awarding Wells $500. The railroad company appealed, and in 1887, the Supreme Court of Tennessee reversed the previous decision and ordered Wells to pay court fees. Using the pseudonym “Iola,” Wells began to write editorials in black newspapers that challenged Jim Crow laws in the South. She bought a share of a Memphis newspaper, the Free Speech and Headlight, and used it to further the cause of African American civil rights.

After the lynching of three of her friends in 1892, Wells became one of the nation’s most vocal anti-lynching activists. Calvin McDowell, Thomas Moss, and Henry Stewart owned the People’s Grocery in Memphis, but their economic success angered the white owners of a store across the street. On March 9, a group of white men gathered to confront McDowell, Moss, and Stewart. During the ensuing scuffle, several of the white men received injuries, and authorities arrested the three black business owners. A white mob subsequently broke into the jail, captured McDowell, Moss, and Stewart, and lynched them.

Incensed by the murder of her friends, Wells launched an extensive investigation of lynching. In 1892, she published a pamphlet, “Southern Horrors,” which detailed her findings. Through her lectures and books such as A Red Record (1895), Wells countered the “rape myth” used by lynch mobs to justify the murder of African Americans. Through her research she found that lynch victims had challenged white authority or had successfully competed with whites in business or politics. As a result of her outspokenness, a mob destroyed the offices of the Free Speech and threatened to kill Wells.  She fled Memphis determined to continue her campaign to raise awareness of southern lynching. Wells took her movement to England, and established the British Anti-Lynching Society in 1894.  She returned to the U.S., settled in Chicago, Illinois where she married attorney and newspaper editor Ferdinand L. Barnett in 1895.

Wells-Barnett also worked to advance other political causes. She protested the exclusion of African Americans from the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago and three years later she helped launch the National Association of Colored Women (NACW).  In 1909 Wells was a founding member of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). She also actively campaigned for women’s suffrage.”

    • Formed in 1908 response to racial attacks in Illinois
    • Launched 1922 campaign for federal anti-lynching bill
      • Passed House but filibustered in senate by Southern Democrats
    • NAACP fought for federal anti-lynching legislation up until 1930s
  • Federal anti-lynching bills
    • Starting in 1909, federal legislators introduced more than 200 bills in Congress to make lynching a Federal crime
      • They failed to pass any because of Southern legislators’ opposition
    • First federal prosecution of a lyncher for a civil rights violation was in 1946

United States v. Cruikshank

  • Fed charges against Colfax white militia members (1873)
    • Under 1870 Enforcement Act
      • Reconstruction Act to prosecute anyone attacking black suffrage
        • Also known as Civil Rights Act of 1870 or First Ku Klux Klan Act
  • Convictions appealed in United States v. Cruikshank (1876)
    • Supreme Court overturned ruling
      • Enforcement Act only applied to state action, not individual citizens
      • Plaintiffs had to rely on state courts for protection
        • which never convicted white men for murder of blacks
  • Fed courts now powerless to prosecute white terrorists
    • DOJ dropped 179 Enforcement Act prosecutions in Miss. alone
      • Federal civil rights enforcement was blocked by Cruikshank until 1966
    • Blacks in the South were left at the mercy of white terrorists

Howard University students wear nooses to protest lynching outside the National Crime Conference in Washington, DC, 1934

Mary Church Terrell: Co-Founder of the NAACP | Unladylike2020 | American Masters | PBS

EJI: Segregation in America

[T]he machinery of government gave mobs immunity. . . . Even when [law enforcement officers] did not actually ride with the Ku Klux Klan or march with the lynch mob themselves, they would not arrest racist killers. A white man charged with killing a black man could count on his grand jury refusing to indict him, the local district attorney refusing to prosecute him, or the jury refusing to convict him. The machinery of justice . . . endorsed mob violence”

Black journalist T. Thomas Fortune made these observations in the 1880s during the fight against lynching, but they aptly describe the situation confronting black civil rights activists generations later.

“For the next 15 years,” a white man named Byron De La Beckwith wrote in a letter to the National Rifle Association in January 1963, “we in Mississippi are going to have to do a lot of shooting to protect our people from bad niggers.” A fertilizer salesman, veteran, and White Citizens’ Council member, De La Beckwith was a staunch segregationist who once declared, “I believe in segregation like I believe in God.” When he was arrested and charged with assassinating Mississippi NAACP Field Secretary Medgar Evers on a June evening in 1963, the state-funded Mississippi State Sovereignty Commission assisted De La Beckwith’s defense. Governor Ross Barnett interrupted his trial during the testimony of Mrs. Myrlie Evers to shake the defendant’s hand, and two different all-white juries declined to convict. Remarking on the outcome of one of De La Beckwith’s two 1964 trials, Governor Barnett quipped, “You can’t be surprised what a jury does or who a woman will marry.”

Dozens of people died in anti-civil rights violence between 1954 and 1968, and countless more were injured and traumatized while fighting for equal rights. A study of violent civil rights-related incidents in the South documented more than 100 attacks between January 1, 1955, and May 1, 1958. “Although [demonstrators] won several victories,” one scholar observed, “the U.S., particularly the South, became a war zone.”

Between 1955 and 1963, black civil rights activists were the targets of no fewer than 21 bombings in Birmingham, Alabama (earning it the moniker “Bombingham”).

Suppressing black voters ensured the 1942 election of James O. Eastland as United States senator from Mississippi. Eastland would build a six-term career leading a national movement opposed to civil rights.

Multiple attacks targeted movement leader Reverend Fred Shuttlesworth and an explosion at 16th Street Baptist Church killed four young black girls in the church basement and two young black boys in the violent aftermath.

Law enforcement and white elected officials tolerated and sometimes encouraged racial violence and terrorist acts. Many law enforcement officials were members of White Citizens’ Councils or the Ku Klux Klan. 227 All-white juries consistently acquitted those charged with violence against black people, effectively immunizing perpetrators of racist violence from punishment

In August 1955, Roy Bryant and J.W. Milam were acquitted of abducting and brutally killing Emmett Till, a black 14-year-old visiting from Chicago, despite the testimony of multiple witnesses proving that the men targeted Emmett for allegedly insulting Bryant’s wife.228 Months later, both men confessed to Emmett’s murder in Look Magazine.

Dozens of people witnessed the shooting of Lamar Smith, a 63-year-old black farmer and voting rights activist killed on the lawn of the Lincoln County Courthouse in Brookhaven, Mississippi, in August 1955. The sheriff allowed one of the men involved in the murder to leave the scene covered in blood, and three men arrested for the killing were released without charges when the grand jury refused to indict.

In December 1955, 18 months after Brown, activists in Montgomery, Alabama, launched a year-long boycott to protest mistreatment on the city’s segregated buses following the arrest of a black rider named Rosa Parks. In 1956 and 1957, four black churches and the homes of boycott leaders Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Reverend Ralph Abernathy, Reverend Robert Graetz, and E.D. Nixon were bombed. Two white men affiliated with the Ku Klux Klan were indicted after confessing to the blasts, but in May 1957, an all-white jury acquitted them of all charges as spectators cheered.

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Capital Punishment and the Justice System

White Terrorism and Justice System

“The machinery of gov gave mobs immunity. . . . Even when [law enforcement officers] did not actually ride with the Ku Klux Klan or march with the lynch mob themselves, they would not arrest racist killers. A white man charged with killing a black man could count on his grand jury refusing to indict him, the local district attorney refusing to prosecute him, or the jury refusing to convict him. The machinery of justice . . . endorsed mob violence” Black journalist T. Thomas Fortune (1880)

  • Law enforcement and white elected officials
    • Tolerated and sometimes encouraged racial violence and terrorist acts
    • Many law enforcement officials were members of White Citizens’ Councils or the Ku Klux Klan
  • All white juries
    • Although 1875 Civil Rights Act/ Supreme Court banned all white juries, local officials found ways to barred black people
      • Black people “virtually disappeared from the Southern jury box by 1900
    • All-white juries consistently acquitted those charged with violence against black people
      • Very few white people were convicted of murder for lynching a black person in America during Jim Crow
        • Around 1% of lynchings were ever convicted of a criminal offense

EJI: Lynching in America

“Lynching also directly fostered the racialization of criminality. Whites defended vigilante violence aimed at black people as a necessary tactic of self-preservation to protect property, families, and the Southern way of life from dangerous black criminals. The link between lynching and the image of African Americans as “criminal” and “dangerous” was sometimes explicit, such as when lynchings occurred in response to allegations of criminal behavior. In other cases, white mobs justified lynching as a preemptive strike against the threat of black violent crime. Decades of racial terror in the American South reflected and reinforced a view that African Americans were dangerous criminals who posed a threat to innocent white citizens…

…the Civil Rights Act of 1964, a signature legal achievement of the civil rights movement, contains provisions designed to eliminate discrimination in voting, education, and employment, but it does not address discrimination in criminal justice. Though the most insidious tool of racial subordination throughout the era of racial terror and its aftermath, the criminal justice system remains the institution in American life least impacted by the civil rights movement. Similarly, the system’s endorsement of racist myths of black criminality has never been meaningfully confronted. The unprecedented level of mass incarceration in America today is a contemporary manifestation of these past distortions and abuses that continues to limit the opportunities of our nation’s most vulnerable ”

EJI: Segregation in America

“Law enforcement and white elected officials tolerated and sometimes encouraged racial violence and terrorist acts. Many law enforcement officials were members of White Citizens’ Councils or the Ku Klux Klan. 227 All-white juries consistently acquitted those charged with violence against black people, effectively immunizing perpetrators of racist violence from punishment

n August 1955, Roy Bryant and J.W. Milam were acquitted of abducting and brutally killing Emmett Till, a black 14-year-old visiting from Chicago, despite the testimony of multiple witnesses proving that the men targeted Emmett for allegedly insulting Bryant’s wife.228 Months later, both men confessed to Emmett’s murder in Look Magazine.

Dozens of people witnessed the shooting of Lamar Smith, a 63-year-old black farmer and voting rights activist killed on the lawn of the Lincoln County Courthouse in Brookhaven, Mississippi, in August 1955. The sheriff allowed one of the men involved in the murder to leave the scene covered in blood, and three men arrested for the killing were released without charges when the grand jury refused to indict.

Capital Punishment

“Perhaps the most important reason that lynching declined is that it was replaced by a more palatable form of violence…” Equal Justice Initiative

  • 1920s: lynchings were becoming less popular because of the “bad press” they garnered
    • Southern legislatures shifted to capital punishment as a racially bias legal way to satisfy vigilante violence
    • Being sentenced to death rather than lynched did little for the fairness of trial, conviction, or sentencing for black people
    • 1915: court-ordered executions outpaced lynchings in the former slave states for the first time
    • Blacks were only 22% of the South’s population between 1910 and 1950
      • Constituted 75% of those executed in the South during that period
  • 1850 Northern states abolished public executions by 1850, Southern states continued until 1938
    • Public hangings were often racialized displays intended to deter mob lynchings more than individual crimes


  • Race remains a significant factor in capital sentencing
    • African Americans make up less than 13% of the nation’s population, but are:
      • 42% of those currently on death row
      • 34% of those executed since 1976
    • Modern death sentences are disproportionately given to African Americans accused of crimes against white victims
  • Capital trials today remain proceedings with:
    • Little racial diversity
      • The accused is often the only person of color in the courtroom
    • Illegal racial discrimination in jury selection is widespread, especially in the South and in capital cases

“capital punishment remains rooted in racial terror—“a direct descendant of lynching.” Equal Justice Initiative

EJI: Segregation in America


“For more than a century before its groundbreaking decision to desegregate public schools in 1954, the Supreme Court protected slavery, undermined equal rights, immunized lynch mobs from punishment, and embraced Jim Crow. Brown v. Board of Education was a striking departure from the Court’s longstanding role shielding the South from challenges to its racial caste system.

The Supreme Court vigorously defended the property rights of slave owners and enshrined the narrative of racial difference in its precedent by holding that black people “had no rights which the white man was bound to respect,” whether they were enslaved or not.58

The Court struck down state laws to prevent slave traders from kidnapping free black people and selling them into slavery59 and defended slave owners’ property rights by vacating the Missouri Compromise, which limited slavery in new United States territories.60

Infamously, the Court’s 1857 decision in Dred Scott v. Sandford established that no black person, free or enslaved, could be a citizen of the United States.61 The Court reasoned that black people “had for more than a century before been regarded as beings of an inferior order, and altogether unfit to associate with the white race, either in social or political relations,” and therefore, it is “absolutely certain that the African race were not included under the name of citizens of a State” and not entitled to the “privileges and immunities” of citizenship.62

Undermining Reconstruction

During Reconstruction — the period immediately following the Civil War when an effort was made to defend the rights of formerly enslaved black people — Congress passed three constitutional amendments: the Thirteenth Amendment abolished slavery and involuntary servitude; the Fourteenth Amendment overturned Dred Scott, declared all people born in the United States to be citizens, and guaranteed citizens due process and equal protection of the laws; and the Fifteenth Amendment prohibited denying a man the right to vote “on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude.” The Supreme Court swiftly and systematically gutted all three.

The Fourteenth Amendment was designed to prevent states from violating the rights of formerly enslaved people. In 1872, in the Slaughterhouse Cases, the Court nullified the amendment by holding that it could not limit the power of states to deny basic rights to their own citizens.63

In 1875, in United States v. Reese, the Court held that the Fifteenth Amendment did not grant African Americans a federal right to vote, 64 struck down the statute Congress passed to protect African Americans’ voting rights, and overturned the convictions of two election officials who had refused to count a black man’s vote. 65

Complicity in Racial Terrorism

As racial terror lynching raged throughout the South following the abolition of slavery, the Supreme Court repeatedly rendered the federal government powerless to protect African Americans from racial violence.

After killing as many as 150 black people peacefully protesting at the courthouse in Colfax, Louisiana, in 1873, white defendants were convicted under a federal law designed to combat the Ku Klux Klan. 66 The Court overturned their convictions in United States v. Cruikshank and struck down the statute, holding that Congress was empowered to regulate only state action, not the acts of private citizens — even if they committed murder.67

The conceit of this private/state actor distinction was laid bare in Screws v. United States, when the Court overturned the conviction of a sheriff who, along with two other law enforcement officers, beat a handcuffed black man to death.68

The Court not only shut down federal attempts to protect black citizens, but also permitted state courts to deny justice to black victims. While the Court struck down a law that excluded black men from jury service solely based on race in 1879, it permitted states to create property and educational requirements for jury service and gave local officials nearly unfettered discretion to use those requirements to exclude African Americans. 69

The Court made it so difficult to prove racial discrimination in jury selection that between 1904 and 1935, not a single conviction of a black defendant was reversed because of racial discrimination in jury selection, even though African Americans were universally excluded from Southern juries.70 Meanwhile, all-white juries reliably acquitted white perpetrators of lynchings and other racial violence.

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The Myth of Black Criminality


scaletowidthSource: society6.com/jonathanedwards

“When Black criminality ceased, lynching would cease” President Roosevelt

Brennan Center for Justice: Racism & Felony Disenfranchisement: An Intertwined History

The End of the Civil War: An Increasingly Racist Criminal Justice System

By the end of the Civil War, states were already incarcerating African Americans at a higher rate than whites. This disparity significantly worsened in the ensuing years, a fact well-documented in the South.

Although outlawing slavery itself, the Thirteenth Amendment carved out an exception allowing states to impose involuntary servitude on those who were convicted of crimes. Seeing an opportunity to sustain their crumbling economy, numerous Southern politicians quickly implemented new criminal laws that were “essentially intended to criminalize black life,” wrote Pulitzer Prize-winning author Douglas Blackmon.  These ostensibly race-neutral laws were selectively enforced by a nearly all-white criminal justice system.  While white people accused of crimes often escaped punishment, black people were arrested and convicted “almost always under the thinnest chimera of probable cause or judicial process,” as Blackmon put it.

Identifying these new criminal laws as “Black Codes,” historian Eric Foner describes how they bolstered the South’s faltering economy by providing employers “with a supply of cheap labor” through convict leasing. This system was reserved nearly entirely for black prisoners — at least 90 percent of those forced into convict leasingarrangements were black.  Because convict leasing generated significant profits for states, law enforcement officials, and companies alike, the practice incentivized baseless arrests and convictions of black citizens.

These factors and others spurred widening disparities in incarceration rates. In Alabama, for example, the percentage of nonwhite prisoners jumped from 2 percent in 1850, to 74 percent by 1870.

Know Your Rights Camp: A Brief History Of The Idea Of The Black Male Criminal

Why are Black men, for instance, often thought to be dangerous criminals by mainstream white America despite evidence to the contrary?

To begin, Black men are not “naturally” more or less dangerous than non-Black men. The fact that Black men are criminalized at higher rates than non-Black men does not reflect differences in “innate criminality” but rather slanted applications of justice. The U.S. Department of Justice proves this claim when it finds that whereas Black drivers are three times more likely than white drivers to have their cars searched, white drivers are considerably more likely in the same scenario to turn up with guns or drugs. Often, the reflex to criminalize certain bodies over others hinges on perceived—not actual— danger. And perceptions of danger are inherited through historical narratives aimed at producing and sustaining a white-dominant racial order.

So where and how did the manufactured linkage of Blackness, maleness, and criminality emerge? And further, how is it sustained?

Black people—and especially Black men— have been cast as the preeminent outlaws of the American imagination. Even before the U.S. Constitution’s Fugitive Slave Clause was ratified in 1788 (Article IV, Section II, Clause III), Virginia already had 73 laws on the books that would result in the death penalty for enslaved Black men, women, and children —and only one for white people. In fact, in 1657—fifty years after Africans were enslaved and transported to the territory that would become the United States—Virginia became the first colony to pass a fugitive slave law, a statute which effectively criminalized runaway slaves in pursuit of freedom from bondage.

Two decades after the enactment of the U.S. Constitution, Samuel Cartwright, a New Orleans physician and Confederate loyalist, argued that high rates of physical and mental illnesses afflicting enslaved Black persons were the products of the alleged cognitive inferiority of the “Black race.” In his 1815 “Report on the Disease and the Physical Peculiarities of the Negro Race,” Cartwright introduced what he called “Drapetomania,” known as the “Disease Causing Slaves to Run Away.” Unconvinced that enslaved Blackchildren, women, and men might naturally seek freedom, Cartwright instead claimed that Drapetomania could be cured by “kindness.” Cartwright’s new diagnostic category, in effect, pathologized the pursuit of Black emancipation.

In the immediate aftermath of slavery, mainstream white America strategically began to link ideas of violence and danger with Black maleness. As slaves, Black men were narrated as docile and generally subservient. As free people, however, the ideology of docility was replaced with the mystique of danger. During Reconstruction, white mainstream voices argued that Black men, whose predatory proclivities had allegedly been benevolently suppressed under slavery, would revert to their natural state of violence and criminality. Thus, the ideology of the Black brute was birthed.

From the 1890s-1940s, writes Khalil Gibran Muhammad in The Condemnation of Blackness, “black criminality would become one of the most commonly cited and longest-lasting justifications for black inequality and mortality in the modern urban world.” Moreover, according to one physician cited in the New York Medical Journal in 1886, Black people were “naturally intemperate” and prone to indulging “every appetite too freely, whether for food, drink, tobacco, or sensual pleasures, and sometimes to such an extent as to appear more of a brute than human.”

In conjunction with the ubiquity of scientific racism, the Black brute was depicted in popular culture and in politics as a congenital rapist of white women bent on undermining white racial purity through Black contamination. This interpretation quickly ascended as the prominent public rationalization for lynching Black men. At the turn of the 20th century popular Mississippi Representative Percy Quin claimed that there is “an element of barbarism in the black man.” In conjunction, Representative Thomas Sisson, also of Mississippi, argued that he and his white compatriots must “protect our girls and womenfolk from these black brutes. When these black fiends keep their hands off the throats of women of the South then the lynching will stop.” White politicians of the era constructed the image of the Black brute as an inherently violent super predator with an insatiable lust for white women and a conjoint wish to kill white men. The brute served as a two-pronged receptacle of white fear.

Despite these claims, however, there is no evidence to suggest that Black men in the postbellum south systematically enacted sexual violence upon white women or tried to murder white men en masse. In fact, such narrations say less about Black men and more about white men who created them. It was white men, not Black men, who engaged in the widespread rape of Black women during the eras of slavery and Reconstruction.

Historical efforts to make this history plain and to decenter the myth of the Black brute have themselves been met with visceral instances of violence and brutality. When Blackanti-lynching activist Ida B. Wells-Barnett argued in the 1890s that most associations between white women and Black men were, in fact, consensual, a white mob destroyed the offices where her newspaper company was located.

The myth of the Black brute gained even further popularity in 1915 with the release of the (first) Hollywood Blockbuster, The Birth of a Nation. The three-hour film centers on the Ku Klux Klan’s Reconstruction-era “protection” of white women from the uncontrolled sexual aggressions of free Black men through the preferred intervention of the lynch mob. After the movie was screened at the White House President Woodrow Wilson reportedly said the film was “like writing history with lightning” and that his only regret was that its depictions were “all so terribly true.” The historical record, however, has long since shown its plot to be both unapologetically white supremacist and grossly unrepresentative of Reconstruction.

The myth of the Black brute is alive still today. According to the Justice Department, a whopping 45 percent of rape exoneration cases involve the misidentification of Black men by white women despite the fact that less than 10 percent of reported rapes of white women are committed by black men.  In fact, according to a 2004 meta-analysis in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology the concepts of “black” and “crime” were generally interchangeable with one another in terms of how subjects in the study visually perceived black people.

Mainstream white America continues to embrace the manufactured linkage of Blackness, maleness, and brutality. Many of these ideas have been taken up and repackaged in the more recent past under the policies of the so-called “War on Drugs,” “Stop and Frisk,” and the conservative dog-whistle politics of “law and order.”

NCBI: From “brute” to “thug:” the demonization and criminalization of unarmed Black male victims in America

During the institution of slavery, the image of Black people, specifically Black males, was of a docile character. The images of buffoonery, blissful ignorance, and juvenile angst were seen as the primary traits of enslaved Blacks. This is characterized in several portrayals of Black males of this time. The use of Blackface – a type of performance that generally used White actors wearing black make-up to portray Black people in stereotypes – became popular in the 19th century. White actors popularized minstrel shows, depicting stereotypes of Black life as foolish, messy, and overall comedic at the expense of Black culture (; ). In addition, other popular literature and media characterized antebellum enslaved Blacks as content with their place in society. In literature, the character of Uncle Tom in Uncle Tom’s Cabin is portrayed as an older Black slave who is faithful and dutiful to his White master. The film Gone with the Wind depicts content slaves, specifically the role of Mammy who even fends off freedmen. Finally, the Disney film Song of the South depicts Uncle Remus as an elderly Black freedman who was satisfied with his place in society, singing the famous happy song, “Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Dah.”

These depictions of Blackness as docile and manageable reflected the ability to control the Black body and mind, creating the idea that slavery was the best position for Black people. This status of inferiority is echoed in W.E.B. DuBois’ writing of how Whites viewed freedom as a way to “spoil” and “ruin” Black people (). Additionally, according to David Pilgrim:

These portrayals were pragmatic and instrumental. Proponents of slavery created and promoted images of blacks that justified slavery and soothed white consciences. If slaves were childlike, for example, then a paternalistic institution where masters acted as quasi-parents to their slaves was [sic] humane, even morally right. More importantly, slaves were rarely depicted as brutes because that portrayal might have become a self-fulfilling prophecy. (2012)

However, this image of Blackness ended after the American Civil War. During the period of Reconstruction (1865-1877), newly freed Blacks began to obtain social, economic, and political rights with the passage of the 13th, 14th, and 15th Amendments to the Constitution. This growth was seen in the building of Black communities such as Greenwood in Tulsa, Oklahoma, which was referred to as “Black Wall Street” (), the building of schools now known as Historically Black College and Universities (HBCUs), and the election of the first two Black U.S. Senators in Hiram Revels and Blanche Bruce.

This growth in power challenged White supremacy and created White fear of Black mobility. Particularly, wealthy Whites were fearful of political power newly freed Black people could acquire via voting, whereas poor Whites saw Blacks as competition in the labor force. Thus the rise of the Jim Crow era began, which was solidified by the Supreme Court ruling of Plessy v. Ferguson which stated, “separate but equal is constitutional.” This fear was met with a shift from Black people being viewed as compliant and submissive servants to savages and brute monsters.

Media portrayals of this mythical Black brute began to grow using the same initial science Jefferson and other Enlightenment-era theorists proclaimed, which was based on inaccurate anthropological and biological factors. This time, the argument was that Blacks were naturally more prone to violence and other aggressive behaviors. Charles H. Smith wrote in 1893, “A bad Negro is the most horrible creature upon the earth, the most brutal and merciless” (p. 181). This myth of cruelty and vicious disposition was directed towards White women. As the myth grew and stories spread about the savage Black brute, so did the occurrences of lynching. Lynching – the extrajudicial punishment – was ritualistic and struck fear into Black residents throughout the United States (). The most prevalent accusation was the rape or sexual assault of a White woman by a Black male. This allegation would have reverberating effects throughout entire communities. In Tulsa, Oklahoma, a young White woman accused a Black male of sexual assault and roughly 300 Black people were killed and more than 9,000 people were left homeless after White mobs destroyed the Greenwood community (). Regardless of producing evidence or facts, White mobs would seize Black defendants or attack Black neighborhoods to seek out revenge for this crime.

The case of Sam Hose is an example of how different and various versions of the truth were reported. Hose killed his employer in self-defense after being threatened with a pistol. However newspapers wrote “a monster in human form” emerged, which detailed Hose as cold-blooded, killing his employer, and savagely raping his employer’s wife. The report drove White fear to lynch Hose (). In reality, these charges were mere excuses to exercise exorbitant amounts of violence on Black people. The lynching of a Black body became a form of ritualistic violence where limbs and other body parts were taken as souvenirs. Litwack wrote:

After stripping Hose of his clothes and chaining him to a tree, the self-appointed executioners stacked kerosene-soaked wood high around him…they cut off his ears, fingers, and genitals, and skinned his face…the contortions of Sam Hose’s body as the flames rose, distorting his features, causing his eyes to bulge out their sockets…Before Hose’s body had even cooled, his heart and liver were removed and cut into several pieces and his bones were crushed into small particles. The crowd fought over these souvenirs. (p. 123, 2004)

This overkill of the Black body became part of the racist ideology that was used to justify these acts of violence. This mythical act of Black savagery was situated in this idea of Black brutality and criminality that had no other recourse but death. A prominent Georgia woman wrote about the Sam Hose lynching, “The premeditated outrage on Mrs. Cranford was infinitely more intolerable than the murder of her husband” (). Hence, uncontrollable desires of Black males were illegal, criminal, and needed to be stopped through the use of physical force. Therefore, this justified vigilante justice in the name of keeping White womanhood pure.

The brute image of Black men became significant moving into the early 20th century, when fear was reinforced with depictions of Black men as harmful. The film Birth of a Nation, made in 1915, shows Black men as savages trying to attack White women. Their brutality is met with propaganda depicting the Ku Klux Klan as heroic and honorable. The result was Blackness becoming closely associated with criminalization. The criminalization of Blackness (; ; ) allowed for White supremacy to use Black bodies as their scapegoat for all problems, real or fictional. The driving forces behind Black criminality as savage and unmanageable were structurally reinforced by passage of stricter sentencing guidelines in prison and the expansion of the War on Drugs in the second half of the 20th century (). These programs and stricter prison guidelines exponentially grew the American prison system by 700% (). During this time campaigns for “tough on crime” policy emerged as the soundboard for elected officials. For example, George H.W. Bush’s presidential run used a smear campaign tactic, famously known as the “Willie Horton” ad, where a Black prisoner’s face was used to talk about his heinous crimes and Bush’s opponents’ soft-on-crime policy. While the ad overtly discusses a single Black man, the subliminal and larger take away is Willie Horton’s face became synonymous with all Blackness. In short, the mythical brute became the realistic thug via the process of criminalization.

The image of Black men as brutes in society has a long legacy that begins with the social construction of race and brings us to the current period of mass incarceration. In the United States, Black men are six times as likely to go to jail or prison as White men (Gao, 2013). This disproportionate and unequal number indicates the skewed representation of Black men in U.S. prisons. However, the argument is shifted to no longer being about race but about crime and community safety. This negation of understanding the historical link between “brute” and “thug” marginalizes the significant role race plays.

Lastly, a prime example of how the brute image still thrives in society is the April 2008 Vogue magazine cover of professional basketball player LeBron James holding super model Gisele Bündchen. The image of LeBron giving a menacing look while Gisele is in his arms shares a strikingly eerily similarity to a World War I poster that depicts a gorilla holding a White woman with the title “Destroy this Mad Brute” (). These types of images that draw on past racial stereotypes and myths reinforce this criminalization, and are now coded with terms such as “thug” today. While historically in America overt racist language was socially acceptable, there has been a cultural shift of social intolerance to this blatant racist behavior. This does not mean that racism or discriminatory actions have been eradicated but rather driven beneath the surface and reemerged as coded language, gestures, signs, and symbols to indicate difference. Terms such as “thug,” “ghetto,” “hood,” “sketchy,” and “shady” are all examples of coded language that are used to refer to or speak of Blackness without overtly sounding racially prejudiced. Fraternities on college campuses throw “Pimps and Hos” parties where stereotypes of Black people as pimps or prostitutes, exemplifying characters from the film Superfly (1972), also lack the language of race but show in physical gesture and imagery the racism encoded in the details.

Over the last several years with the proliferation of social media, many more events are documented and shared via social networking sites (; ). Some of these events captured on video are cases involving unarmed Black males being killed by law enforcement agents. While some videos show the disturbing death, such as Eric Garner, others show the aftermath like that of Michael Brown’s body in the street. These deaths and others have sparked outrage across communities looking for justice and accountability of law enforcement’s excessive force when dealing with Black people.

Wikipedia: Criminal stereotype of African Americans

According to some scholars, the stereotype of African Americans males as criminals was first constructed as a tool to “discipline” and control slaves during the time of slavery in the United States. For instance, Amii Barnard alleges that out of fear of the fugitive slaves staging a rebellion, slaveholders sought to spread the stereotype that African American males were dangerous criminals who would rape the “innocent” and “pure” white women if they had the opportunity to.[13][14] A law introduced in Pennsylvania in 1700 illustrates the fear of a dangerous African American man within the slaveholding society- it mandated that should a black man attempt to rape a White woman, the perpetrator will be castrated or punished to death.[15]

Carter et al. argues that this criminal stereotype contributed to lynching in the United States that mostly targeted African American males in the south.[16] Ida B. Wells, the well-known anti-lynching activist published the pamphlet entitled the “Southern Horrors: Lynch Law in All Its Phases” from 1892-1920 reporting that contrary to the notion that lynchings occurred because African American males had sexually abused or attacked white women, fewer than 30% of reported lynchings even involved the charge of rape. She also followed up with an editorial that suggested that, most sexual liaisons between black men and white women were consensual and illicit.[17] The criminal stereotype of African Americans as potential rapists at that time is also illustrated in the controversial media portrayal of African American men in the 1915 American epic film, The Birth of a Nation.[18]

According to Marc Mauer however, although African Americans have been consistently stereotyped as “biologically flawed” individuals who have a general tendency towards crime, the depiction of African Americans as criminals became more threatening only in the 1970s and early 1980s- with the evolution of the stereotype of African American males as “petty thieves” to “ominous criminal predators”.[19] In the late 1990s, Melissa Hickman Barlow argued that the perception of African American males as criminals was so entrenched in society that she said “talking about crime is talking about race”.[20] Between 2005 and 2015, the gap in the incarceration rate between blacks and whites declined while still remaining high. The rate of incarceration for blacks declined -2.0% per year, for Hispanics it declined -2.3% per year while for whites it declined only -0.1% per year. Blacks today continue to be incarcerated at a rate over 2.1 times Hispanics and 5.6 times whites.[21] The disparity varies widely by state and region.

Birth of a Nation

  • 1915 D. W. Griffith silent film that portrayed:
    • Black reconstruction politicians as incompetent
    • Black men (played by black face white actors) as criminals and rapist after white women
    • KKK as the savior for white women
    • Glorifies lynching and black voter suppression
  • Reception
    • Credited as inspiring reformation of KKK in 1915
    • First movie screened at white house for Wilson
      • Supposedly he said, “It is like writing history with lightning. And my only regret is that it is all so terribly true”
    • All 9 Supreme Court justices and many members of Congress attended additional showings


Further Readings

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The ‘Great Migration’ Was About Racial Terror, Not Jobs

“African Americans in these communities did not come as immigrants looking for economic opportunities, they came as refugees, exiles from lands in the South where they were being terrorized. And those communities have particular needs we’ve never addressed, we’ve never talked about. We’ve got generational poverty in these cities and marginalization within black communities, and you cannot understand these present-day challenges without understanding the Great Migration, and the terror and violence that sent the African Americans to these cities where they’ve never really been afforded the care and assistance they needed to recover from the terror and trauma” Bryan Stevenson, ED of Equal Justice Initiative

  • Close to six million black Americans fled the South between 1910 and 1970
    • Fled from white terrorism and racial subordination and terror
      • Many left behind their homes, families, employment after a lynching made it unsafe to remain
      • Black families who stayed behind in the South often were internally displaced peoples
    • Within a single decade, the black populations of Georgia and South Carolina declined by 22%
  • Northern cities were of little sanctuary
    • Often perpetuated the systems and attitudes that kept African Americans classified as inferior citizens
    • ”Northern whites believed African-Americans migrants were criminal by nature, which was a justification for why these cities didn’t offer the assistance the new migrants needed”   Brentin Mock – City Lab

“We created a narrative of racial difference in this country to sustain slavery, and even people who didn’t own slaves bought into that narrative, including people in the North…We were all complicit in the institution of slavery, and the same is true in the era of racial terror and lynching. The North and the Congress basically gave up on equality for African Americans, and that set us on a course that we have not yet recovered from.” Bryan Stevenson, ED of Equal Justice Initiative

Vox: Why African-Americans left the South

CityLab:  The ‘Great Migration’ Was About Racial Terror, Not Jobs

The North and the Congress basically gave up on equality for African Americans, and that set us on a course that we have not yet recovered from.

“The story of the “Great Migration” of African Americans throughout the 20th century is often framed as one of blacks heading North from the South seeking jobs and better wages. In Michael Goldfield’s book 1997 The Color of Politics: Race and the Mainsprings of American Politics, he writes:

There is, to be sure, some dispute over the degree to which conditions in the South pushed African Americans away from the South—these conditions being the decline of the cotton economy, mechanization, boll weevils, the AAA policies of the 1930s, and the general suppression of African-American rights—and the degree to which it was mostly a product of the pull caused by the calculated potential gains from the higher-paying northern labor market.

For Bryan Stevenson, executive director of the legal nonprofit Equal Justice Initiative, based in Montgomery, Alabama, there is no dispute. As he told told The Marshall Project Wednesday, African-American migration was and is premised more accurately on racial terror:

There are very few people who have an awareness of how widespread this terrorism and violence was, and the way it now shapes the geography of the United States. We’ve got majority black cities in Detroit, Chicago, large black populations in Oakland and Cleveland and Los Angeles and Boston, and other cities in the Northeast. And the African Americans in these communities did not come as immigrants looking for economic opportunities, they came as refugees, exiles from lands in the South where they were being terrorized. And those communities have particular needs we’ve never addressed, we’ve never talked about. We’ve got generational poverty in these cities and marginalization within black communities, and you cannot understand these present-day challenges without understanding the Great Migration, and the terror and violence that sent the African Americans to these cities where they’ve never really been afforded the care and assistance they needed to recover from the terror and trauma that were there.

This framing can’t be emphasized enough. His organization has been leading an effort to map where the close to 4,000 lynchings of African Americans happened in America between 1880 and 1940.
Racial disparities seen today, including housing segregation and the ways we continue to fail black youth, can be explained in no small part by how cities received African Americans during those “Great Migration” periods. Stevenson ties the “generational poverty” suffered today by African Americans to cities not providing “the care and assistance needed to recover” for black migrants escaping the plagues of lynchings, burned black churches, burned black towns, rapes of black women, and other racialized atrocities throughout the 20th century.

A similar situation is playing out in Europe right now, where, as David Frum writes in The Atlantic this month, African and Middle-Eastern immigrants have been flooding European cities at reportedly untenable rates. Many of those immigrants are seeking asylum from countries torn apart by war, genocide, and poverty— countries including Syria and Somalia. Some are simply seeking better economic fortunes. There’s little difference, though, in the eyes of native European residents, 57 percent of whom, reports Frum, hold negative attitudes toward people emigrating from outside the European Union.

Some nations have lately been better about taking in refugees. Frum points to camps in Jordan and Turkey that have running water, sewage disposal, schools, and electricity. However, writes Frum:

Much harder is creating economic opportunity within these overnight cities, and preventing extremism from taking hold. Harder still: prompt resolution of the wars that displace people in the first place.

There’s obviously a difference between the kind of migration seen across seas today and that of African Americans in the past century. But an injustice is illuminated in the comparison: Unlike in the European Union, African Americans were refugees in their own country; white Americans in the North and the South chose to disown their own people.
Black families who stayed behind in the South during that time period could have been identified as internally displaced peoples. The prompt resolution of the Civil War that Union government officials hoped would happen during Reconstruction collapsed under the terrorism enacted by white Southern police, government officials, vigilante mobs, and the Ku Klux Klan—all often one and the same.Northern cities were of little sanctuary because they often perpetuated the systems and attitudes that kept African Americans classified as inferior citizens. As examined in a recent CityLab piece on the term “black-on-black crime,” Northern whites believed that African-Americans migrants were criminal by nature, which was a justification for why these cities did not offer the assistance the new migrants need.

As Stevenson told The Marshall Project:

We created a narrative of racial difference in this country to sustain slavery, and even people who didn’t own slaves bought into that narrative, including people in the North. It was New York’s governor—in the 1860s—that was talking about the inferiority of the black person even as he was opposed to slavery.

You don’t have to have owned a slave to be complicit in the institution of slavery, to have benefitted and have cheaper food to buy, cheaper materials, cheaper services, because the providers of the foods and services were using free slave labor. We were all complicit in the institution of slavery, and the same is true in the era of racial terror and lynching. The North and the Congress basically gave up on equality for African Americans, and that set us on a course that we have not yet recovered from.

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Legacy of Lynching

  • The lynching era
    • Thousands dead
    • Significantly marginalized black people politically, economically, and socially
    • Fueled massive migration of black refugees out of the South
    • inflicted deep traumatic and psychological wounds on African American communities
      • Intensified by a culture of silence about racial violence that persists today

“Institutional inequality, continued marginalization, and unaddressed histories of trauma have created a unique legacy of chronic generational poverty, persistent urban distress, debilitating violence, and limited educational opportunities.” Equal Justice Initiative

  • Whites participated, witnessed, socialized children in this culture of violence were psychologically damaged
    • Taught Southern white children to accept/embrace racial violence and a devaluation of black life, often as a civic duty
    • Generations of white people raised in communities where myths of racial superiority dominated/unchallenged
      • Many of those people hold powerful positions today
    • Today, public and private institutions in South memorialize Confederacy and celebrate architects of white supremacy
      • While remaining silent about the terror, violence, and loss of life inflicted on black Americans during the same historical period

“Narratives emerged after the lynching era that blamed lynchings on a minority of Southern white extremists, but reports of the day clearly demonstrate that participation in lynching was widespread among Southern whites. “Lynchers tended to be ordinary and respectable people, animated by a self-righteousness that justified their atrocities in the name of maintaining the social and racial order” from which all white people benefitted.Equal Justice Initiative

  • Public acknowledgment, memorials, educational curriculum can:
    • Begin to correct our distorted national narrative about this period of racial terror in American history
    • Directly address and start to heal the harms borne by the African American community
  • Truth and Reconciliation Commission established by South African government in the aftermath of apartheid
    • Elicited stories of bystanders and perpetrators of torture and violence against black citizens
    • This enabled members of the white community to publicly acknowledge what happened to the victims and
      • “reorient themselves with the new national agenda” as active participants rather than passive observers.

“Continued silence about lynchings “compounds victimization” and tells victims and the nation as a whole that “their pain does not matter…

…Institutional inequality, continued marginalization, and unaddressed histories of trauma have created a unique legacy of chronic generational poverty, persistent urban distress, debilitating violence, and limited educational opportunities.” Equal Justice Initiative

…Narratives emerged after the lynching era that blamed lynchings on a minority of Southern white extremists, but reports of the day clearly demonstrate that participation in lynching was widespread among Southern whites. “[L]ynchers tended to be ordinary and respectable people, animated by a self-righteousness that justified their atrocities in the name of maintaining the social and racial order” from which all white people benefitted.” Equal Justice Initiative


Josh Singer: Trump, Fox News and the Modern Lynching Movement

How Trump and Fox News are setting the stage for modern lynching.

Twitter announced earlier this week they won’t use the same algorithms they use to detect and ban ISIS-affiliated terrorists to detect and ban white nationalists because it would inevitably lead to banning many GOP members and Trump supporters. J.M. Berger, author of Extremism, summarized this situation:

“Cracking down on white nationalists will therefore involve removing a lot of people who identify to a greater or lesser extent as Trump supporters, and some people in Trump circles and pro-Trump media will certainly seize on this to complain they are being persecuted. There’s going to be controversy here that we didn’t see with ISIS, because there are more white nationalists than there are ISIS supporters, and white nationalists are closer to the levers of political power in the U.S. and Europe than ISIS ever was.”

Welcome to the dilemma of having freedom of speech in a white supremacist society.

This dilemma has been present throughout U.S. history and up to our current political climate, allowing white nationalist rhetoric to mix with a white supremacist culture to produce violent and deadly results. This two-part article will examine the similarities between two of these situations: the post-Civil War lynching era and Trump’s political right.

The U.S. Lynching Era

In 2018 the Equal Justice Initiative (EJI) opened the National Memorial for Peace and Justice, informally known as the National Lynching Memorial. It is the first national memorial dedicated to the legacy of over 4,400 black men, women, and children lynched in the U.S. The site is also dedicated to the millions of black people who lived through this period of terror and their descendants still living through the legacy of lynching from a racist criminal justice system to a white supremacist society that criminalizes black people.

Between 1877 to 1950, there were over 4,400 recorded lynchings (many, many more unrecorded) in 800 U.S. counties. Lynching was a form of racial terrorism that enforced white supremacy on newly freed black slaves and their communities after the Civil War. White people would extrajudicially kill a black person who was often, but not always, suspected of a crime. Lynchings varied from private murders to public events with hundreds of white men, women, and children watching as they picnicked, often taking photos for postcards and body parts for souvenirs.

Postcard of the Lynching of Will Stanley in Temple, Texas, 1915. Back of postcard read “This is the Barbecue we had last night my picture is to the left with a cross over it your son Joe.”

Most lynched black people had supposedly committed a crime against a white person, such as murder or rape, but most often these accusations were fabricated excuses to kill those who violated white supremacist norms from casual social transgressions, to trying to leave their debt peonage at a share cropping farm, to competing economically with a white business, to participating in civil rights movements, to voting, to simply being a black person at the wrong time and place.

The memorial structure on the center of the site is constructed of over 800 corten steel

monuments, one for each county in the United States where a lynching took place

The history captured in this Museum came about from EJI’s massive research effort to bring to light the buried history of racial terror lynchings in the U.S., summarized in the report, “Lynching in America: Confronting the Legacy of Racial Terror

This research captured several societal realities of the time that allowed for this level of terrorism to happen. Realities such as:

1. A society founded on perpetuating white supremacy

2. National stereotypes of black people as criminals and rapists to justify their oppression after slavery

3. Newspapers and politicians distorting facts and fabricating stories to instigate white mobs to lynch. The most common false narrative used to instigate white fear and violence was the myth that white women had to be constantly protected from black men who were stereotyped as savage, “out of control” rapists. In 1898, a black massacre occurred in Wilmington, NC, that killed dozens of black people and removed any political and economic power black people had gained from the Reconstruction Era. The ultimate goal of this massacre was to restore white supremacy, but white politicians and newspapers used a race-baiting propaganda campaign that sexualized black men and stoked fear of their alleged uncontrollable lust for white women. “Newspaper stories and stump speeches warned of ‘black beasts’ who threatened the flower of Southern womanhood” (Timothy Tyson, News & Observer). These efforts instigated a white mob to kill dozens of black people, banish black politicians and business owners from Wilmington, and restore white supremacy for the next century.

Lynching in the U.S. only started to phase out as legal capital punishment took its place. All-white juries, sanctioned by a 1987 Supreme Court decision that stated racial discrimination in criminal justice does not violate the Constitution, became the perfect white supremacist alternative to lynching. These juries were instrumental in the disproportionate sentencing of blacks to death in modern times.

Voicing the Violence: Reflection on Lynching Memorial by Reckon’s Starr Civil Dunigan

The Modern Lynching Movement

Fast-forward to 2019, and you find a society that has still never confronted/moved beyond its white supremacist founding, people of color are still demonized and criminalized, and right-wing news media and conservative politicians are still distorting facts and fabricating stories to an audience that is increasingly more white extremist, more violent, and more heavily armed.

The Anti-Defamation League (ADL), an organization that tracks extremist activity, found in 2017, the year President Trump took office, white supremacist murders in the U.S. more than doubled from the year before. White supremacist violence continues to rise as our president and the right-wing media add daily fuel to this racist fire such as:

1. The Trump administration defunding anti-extremist programs

2. The Trump administration creating racist policies to demonize and hurt people of color while legitimizing bigotry nationally, such as the Muslim travel ban and separating asylum-seeking families of color from their children.

3. Trump and right-wing media spreading false stories and incendiary rhetoric for political gain, such as claiming Mexican immigrants are rapists, Islam hates America, protesters of racial police brutality hate our military, and asylum seekers are dangerous invaders and the beneficiaries of a secret Jewish plot. This last lie helped inspire the Pittsburgh Synagogue shooter. “The apparent spark for the worst anti-Semitic massacre in American history was a racist hoax inflamed by a U.S. president seeking to help his party win a midterm election” (Adam Serwer, The Atlantic).

These realities are fueling a rise of hate crimes and white extremist violence, with the same results as the lynching era: to terrorize communities of color in order to enforce white supremacy.  This is our modern lynching movement.

Two of the biggest instigators of the modern lynching movement are President Trump and Fox News. Below are two current examples of how they are instigating racial terror for people of color confronting white supremacy.

Trump and Ilhan Omar

Representative Ilhan Omar has been a target for Islamophobia, sexism, and anti-Palestinian beliefs since the day of her election in 2018. She is the first Somali-American, the first person who was once a refugee, and first hijab-wearing Muslim woman to serve in Congress. And she is publicly critical of Israel’s policies of violence toward Palestinians at a time in our country when the majority of U.S. politicians, media, and citizens don’t understand the difference between anti-Semitism and being critical of Israel. All of these qualifications have resulted in a variety of backlashes over the past year from smear campaigns to death threats.

The latest whitelash comes from President Trump, who tweeted an edited and out-of-context video of an Ilhan Omar speech about the dangers of blaming the world’s Muslims for 9/11—with scenes of the 9/11 attacks—implying she couldn’t care less about these acts of terrorism. This propaganda has caused an explosion of death threats again Omar. Most of her current daily death threats reference Trump’s tweet.

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When confronted about the death threats he caused, Trump said he didn’t feel bad at all: “She’s got a way about her that’s very, very bad, I think, for our country. I think she’s extremely unpatriotic and extremely disrespectful to our country.” His comments came at a time when actual people were being arrested for threatening her life. A white man from New York who was recently arrested for making death threats against Omar said he was a supporter of President Donald Trump, a patriot, and someone who “hates radical Muslims in our government.”

During a Progressive Town Hall, Omar shared: “There are cities in my state where the gas stations have written on their bathrooms ‘assassinate Ilhan Omar.’ I have people driving around my district looking for my home, for my office, causing me harm. I have people every single day on Fox News and everywhere, posting that I am a threat to this country. So I know what fear looks like. The masjid I pray in in Minnesota got bombed by two domestic white terrorists.”

Since his 2016 presidential campaign, Trump has been using post-9/11 Islamophobic stereotypes that Muslims are violent, hate America, and are “radical Muslims” connected to terrorism to gain support from fearful right-wing voters at the cost of increasing hatred and violence against Muslims in the U.S. His newest scapegoat is Omar, and the conditions for lynching reemerge as death threats against her increase. These conditions include:

1. Rising support for white supremacy from the Trump administration and white extremist groups

2. False stereotypes demonizing people of color, especially Muslims of color

3. Right-wing politicians and media instigating white fear by spreading false narratives

Fox News and AOC

The same 2018 election that brought in Ilhan Omar and a historic number of women of color also elected Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, or AOC, to New York’s 14th congressional district. As a self-described Democratic Socialist woman of color—known for progressive initiatives such as the Green New Deal and a proposal to abolish ICE—she has attracted the attention of numerous angry white outlets, including Fox News, as far back as June 2018 when she won her Democratic primary. According to a Media Matters study, for a six-week period from February 25 to April 7, Fox News mentioned AOC at least 3,181 times. “Hosts and guests smear and misrepresent Ocasio-Cortez’s agenda, caricaturing it while painting it as dangerous, far-left socialism.” (Media Matters).

In February 2019, a U.S. Coast Guard lieutenant and self-identified white nationalist was arrested for plotting assassinations of top Democratic congressional leaders and liberal media personalities. Despite AOC being in office for only a month, she made it on the kill list. It’s hard to imagine that Fox News’s relentless daily demonization of AOC didn’t have anything to do with her being on this list.

Despite having a history of expressing extremist views, despite having an online browser history of searches for things like the best guns to kill black people, despite being a huge fan of the Norwegian mass murderer Anders Behring Breivik’s manifesto, and despite accumulating an arsenal of 17 illegal firearms while creating a “hit list,” the federal judge released the defendant on bail. According to the Atlanta Star, the defense attorney “argued that while her client’s use of racial slurs in his ‘private writings’ were deplorable, such language was now a part of the national conversation, thanks to President Donald Trump.” As reported by CNN, the defense also claimed that “the list of names (the defendant) had assembled didn’t amount to a hit list but looks like the sort of list that our commander-in-chief might have compiled while watching Fox News in the morning.” Again, the conditions for lynching are present.

When does hate speech incite violence?

Adam Serwer of the The Atlantic stated, “Ordinarily, a politician cannot be held responsible for the actions of a deranged follower. But ordinarily, politicians don’t praise supporters who have mercilessly beaten a Latino man as ‘very passionate.’ Ordinarily, they don’t offer to pay supporters’ legal bills if they assault protesters on the other side. They don’t praise acts of violence against the media. They don’t defend neo-Nazi rioters as ‘fine people.’ They don’t justify sending bombs to their critics by blaming the media for airing criticism. Ordinarily, there is no historic surge in anti-Semitism, much of it targeted at Jewish critics, coinciding with a politician’s rise. And ordinarily, presidents do not blatantly exploit their authority in an effort to terrify white Americans into voting for their party.”

The 1969 Brandenburg v. Ohio Supreme Court case set the national precedent for regulating hate speech under the First Amendment. The Court stated that the government cannot punish inflammatory speech unless that speech is directed to inciting or producing imminent lawless action and is likely to incite or produce such action.

According to Professor Richard Ashby Wilson from the University of Connecticut, “The record of prosecutions for incitement is relatively meager, and this results in part from the fact that the test for incitement is quite demanding and requires that the prosecution show that the defendant intended to directly advocate a crime and that crime was likely to occur imminently. Further, there is insufficient guidance from the courts regarding the elements of ‘imminence’ and ‘likelihood.’ This has left district attorneys in the dark about what kind of speech might qualify as incitement to imminent lawless action. Prosecutors have limited resources and therefore they tend to avoid indicting an offence when they are unsure that they possess the necessary evidence to secure a conviction.”

As we see increases in death threats, hate crimes, and white extremist violence coincide with the election of Trump and Fox News rhetoric, at what point do we need to revisit our incitement laws?  How do we balance our freedom of speech with the freedom to not experience white supremacist violence?

Many free speech advocates argue that it’s a slippery slope regulating hate speech, which could result in oppressing future civil rights movements, like Black Lives Matter. Former ACLU President Nadine Strossen argues, “The most effective way to counter the potential negative effects of hate speech—which conveys discriminatory or hateful views on the basis of race, religion, gender, and so forth—is not through censorship, but rather through more speech. And that censorship of hate speech, no matter how well-intended, has been shown around the world and throughout history to do more harm than good in actually promoting equality, dignity, inclusivity, diversity, and societal harmony.”

The problem with these difficult situations is when we don’t know the best way to move forward, we end up preserving the status quo, which at this time is a rising violent white extremism in a white supremacist society. I don’t pretend to have the answers to how to move forward. But I do believe one way to find possible solutions, whether it’s a governmental or non-governmental solution, is to create national dialogues on the connections between right-wing rhetoric and the modern lynching movement.

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Equal Justice Institute: Lynching Report and Memorial

Equal Justice Institute: Lynching in America

Lynching in America: Confronting the Legacy of Racial Terror documents EJI’s multi-year investigation into lynching in twelve Southern states during the period between Reconstruction and World War II. EJI researchers documented 4075 racial terror lynchings of African Americans in Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, and Virginia between 1877 and 1950 – at least 800 more lynchings of black people in these states than previously reported in the most comprehensive work done on lynching to date.

In 2017, EJI supplemented this research by documenting racial terror lynchings in other states, and found these acts of violence were most common in eight states: Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Maryland, Missouri, Ohio, Oklahoma, and West Virginia.

Lynching in America makes the case that lynching of African Americans was terrorism, a widely supported phenomenon used to enforce racial subordination and segregation. Lynchings were violent and public events that traumatized black people throughout the country and were largely tolerated by state and federal officials. This was not “frontier justice” carried out by a few marginalized vigilantes or extremists. Instead, many African Americans who were never accused of any crime were tortured and murdered in front of picnicking spectators (including elected officials and prominent citizens) for bumping into a white person, or wearing their military uniforms after World War I, or not using the appropriate title when addressing a white person. People who participated in lynchings were celebrated and acted with impunity.

The report explores the ways in which lynching profoundly impacted race relations in this country and shaped the contemporary geographic, political, social, and economic conditions of African Americans. Most importantly, lynching reinforced a narrative of racial difference and a legacy of racial inequality that is readily apparent in our criminal justice system today. Mass incarceration, racially biased capital punishment, excessive sentencing, disproportionate sentencing of racial minorities, and police abuse of people of color reveal problems in American society that were shaped by the terror era.

No prominent public memorial or monument commemorates the thousands of African Americans who were lynched in America. Lynching in America argues that is a powerful statement about our failure to value the black lives lost in this brutal campaign of racial violence. Research on mass violence, trauma, and transitional justice underscores the urgent need to engage in public conversations about racial history that begin a process of truth and reconciliation in this country.

“We cannot heal the deep wounds inflicted during the era of racial terrorism until we tell the truth about it,” said EJI Director Bryan Stevenson. “The geographic, political, economic, and social consequences of decades of terror lynchings can still be seen in many communities today and the damage created by lynching needs to be confronted and discussed. Only then can we meaningfully address the contemporary problems that are lynching’s legacy.”

Why Build a Lynching Memorial?

Bryan Stevenson:  Pain and terror: America remembers its past

EJI’s New Legacy Museum

Voicing the Violence: Reflection on Lynching Memorial

It’s been a year since The National Memorial for Peace and Justice opened in Montgomery. Since then, nearly half a million people have visited. In a moving tribute, Reckon’s Starr Civil Dunigan reflects on why it’s important we remember those lynched by mobs in Alabama and around the country.

Further Readings

EJI: Maryland Establishes First Statewide Commission on Racial Terror Lynchings

Maryland Lynching Memorial Project

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