Lynching is the illegal execution of an accused person by a mob. The term lynching probably derived from the name Charles Lynch (1736-96), a justice of the peace who administered rough justice in Virginia. Lynching was originally a system of punishment used by whites against African American slaves. However, whites who protested against this were also in danger of being lynched. On 7th November, 1837, Elijah Parish Lovejoy, the editor of the Alton Observer, was killed by a white mob after he had published articles criticizing lynching and advocating the abolition of slavery.
After the establishment of the Ku Klux Klan in 1867 the number of lynching of African American increased dramatically. The main objective of the KKK was to maintain white supremacy in the South, which they felt was under threat after their defeat in the Civil War. It has been estimated that between 1880 and 1920, an average of two African Americans a week were lynched in the United States.
In 1884 Ida Wells, editor of Memphis Free Speech, a small newspaper in Memphis, carried out an investigation into lynching. She discovered during a short period 728 black men and women had been lynched by white mobs. Of these deaths, two-thirds were for small offences such as public drunkenness and shoplifting. On 9th March, 1892, three African American businessmen were lynched in Memphis. When Wells wrote an article condemning the lynchers, a white mob destroyed her printing press. They declared that they intended to lynch her but fortunately she was visiting Philadelphia at the time.
Unable to return to her home, Ida Wells was recruited by the progressive newspaper, New York Age. She continued her campaign against lynching and Jim Crow laws and in 1893 and 1894 made lecture tours of Britain. While there in 1894 she helped to establish the British Anti-Lynching Committee. Members included James Keir Hardie, Thomas Burt, John Clifford, Isabella Ford, Tom Mann, Joseph Pease, C. P. Scott, Ben Tillett and Mary Humphrey Ward.
George Henry White, the last former slave to serve in Congress and the only African American in the House of Representatives, proposed a bill in January, 1901 that would have made lynching of American citizens a federal crime. He argued that any person participating actively in or acting as an accessory in a lynching should be convicted of treason. White pointed out that lynching was being used by white mobs in the Deep South to terrorize African Americans. He illustrated this by showing that of the 109 people lynched in 1899, 87 were African Americans. Despite White's passionate plea, the bill was easily defeated.
The NAACP also fought a long campaign against lynching. In 1919 it published Thirty Years of Lynching in the United States: 1889-1918. The NAACP also paid for large adverts in major newspapers presenting the facts about lynching. To show that the members of the organization would not be intimidated, it held its 1920 annual conference in Atlanta, considered at the time to be one of the most active Ku Klux Klan areas in America.
There was a decline in lynching during the First World War but more than seventy blacks were murdered in this way in the year after the war ended. Ten black soldiers, several still in their army uniforms, were amongst those lynched. Between 1919 and 1922, a further 239 blacks were lynched by white mobs and many more were killed by individual acts of violence and unrecorded lynchings. In none of these cases was a white person punished for these crimes. Several trade unionists were also lynched. This included two members of the Industrial Workers of the World, Frank Little (1917) and Wesley Everest (1919).
The sociologist, Arthur Franklin Raper was commissioned in 1930 to produce a report on lynching. He discovered that "3,724 people were lynched in the United States from 1889 through to 1930. Over four-fifths of these were Negroes, less than one-sixth of whom were accused of rape. Practically all of the lynchers were native whites. The fact that a number of the victims were tortured, mutilated, dragged, or burned suggests the presence of sadistic tendencies among the lynchers. Of the tens of thousands of lynchers and onlookers, only 49 were indicted and only 4 have been sentenced."
The NAACP hoped that the election of Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1932 would bring an end to lynching. Two African American campaigners against lynching, Mary McLeod Bethune and Walter Francis White, had been actively involved in helping Roosevelt to obtain victory. The president's wife, Eleanor Roosevelt, had also been a long-time opponent of lynching.
Lynching became the subject of national debate after the kidnapping and murder of Brooke Hart on 9th November 1933. Hart was the 21 year-old son of Alexander Hart, the owner of the Leopold Hart and Son Department Store in San Jose. Two men, Thomas Harold Thurmond and John M. Holmes, were arrested for the crime. Local newspapers reported that Holmes and Thurmond had met with psychiatrists and would attempt to plead not guilty by reason of insanity. Soon afterwards an angry crowd assembled outside the county jail. Sheriff William Emig contacted James Rolph, the governor of California, asking that the National Guard be deployed to protect the prisoners. Rolph refused. The crowd grew in size (estimated by newspapers as being between 3,000 to 10,000) and Sheriff Emig ordered his officers to abandon the bottom two floors of the jail, where Thurmond and Holmes were being held. The mob now stormed the jail, took Holmes and Thurmond across the street to St. James Park, and hanged them.
Governor Rolph praised the action, stating that California had sent a message to future kidnappers, and promised to pardon anyone involved in the lynching. He also claimed that the lynching was "a fine lesson for the whole nation" The journalist, Westbrook Pegler, argued in the New York Telegram: "The fine theory of all expressions of horror and indignation is that punishment is not supposed to be vengeance but a protective business, whereas the rabble, which constitutes by far the greatest element of the population, want to make the murderer suffer as the victim or his family did. And, though they would be willing to let the Law do it for them if the Law could be relied upon, they know too well what lawyers will do when they get a chance to invoke a lot of legal technicalities which were written and passed by lawyers to provide lawyers with opportunities to make money."
Another journalist at the newspaper disagreed and condemned James Rolph for promising to pardon any man convicted of the lynching. Broun wrote: "If it were possible to carry on a case history of every person in the mob who beat and kicked and hanged and burned two human beings I will make the prophecy that out of this heritage will come crimes and cruelties which are unnumbered... To your knees, Governor, and pray that you and your commonwealth may be washed clean of this bath of bestiality into which a whole community has plunged."
Robert F. Wagner and Edward Costigan agreed to draft a bill that would punish the crime of lynching. In 1935 attempts were made to persuade President Franklin D. Roosevelt to support the Costigan-Wagner bill. However, Roosevelt refused to speak out in favour of the bill that would punish sheriffs who failed to protect their prisoners from lynch mobs. He argued that the white voters in the South would never forgive him if he supported the bill and he would therefore lose the next election.
Even the appearance in the newspapers of the lynching of Rubin Stacy failed to change Roosevelt's mind on the subject. Six deputies were escorting Stacy to Dade County jail in Miami on 19th July, 1935, when he was taken by a white mob and hanged by the side of the home of Marion Jones, the woman who had made the original complaint against him. The New York Times later revealed that "subsequent investigation revealed that Stacy, a homeless tenant farmer, had gone to the house to ask for food; the woman became frightened and screamed when she saw Stacy's face."
The Costian-Wagner Act received support from many members of Congress but the Southern opposition managed to defeat it. However, the national debate that took place over the issue helped to bring attention to the crime of lynching.
In 1937 Abel Meeropol, a Jewish schoolteacher from New York, saw a photograph of the lynching of Thomas Shipp and Abram Smith. Meeropol later recalled how the photograph "haunted me for days" and inspired the writing of the poem, Strange Fruit. Meeropol, a member of the American Communist Party, using the pseudonym, Lewis Allan, published the poem in the Marxist journal, New Masses.
After seeing Billie Holiday perform at the club, Café Society, in New York City, Meeropol showed her the poem. Holiday liked it and after working on it with Sonny White made turned into a song. The record made it to No. 16 on the charts in July 1939. However, the song was denounced by Time Magazine as "a prime piece of musical propaganda" for the National Association for the Advancement of Coloured People (NAACP).
Between 1865 and 1965 over 2400 African Americans were lynched in the United States. Even after the passing of the Civil Rights Act (1964) lynchings continued in the Deep South. The most significant of these was the Michael Donald case. In 1981 the trial of Josephus Andersonan, an African American charged with the murder of a white policeman, took place in Mobile. At the end of the case the jury was unable to reach a verdict. This upset members of the Ku Klux Klan who believed that the reason for this was that some members of the jury were African Americans. At a meeting held after the trial, Bennie Hays, the second-highest ranking official in the Klan in Alabama said: "If a black man can get away with killing a white man, we ought to be able to get away with killing a black man."
On Saturday 21st March, 1981, Bennie Hays's son, Henry Hays, and James Knowles, decided they would get revenge for the failure of the courts to convict the man for killing a policeman. They travelled around Mobile in their car until they found nineteen year old Michael Donald walking home. After forcing him into the car Donald was taken into the next county where he was lynched.
A brief investigation took place and eventually the local police claimed that Donald had been murdered as a result of a disagreement over a drugs deal. Donald's mother, Beulah Mae Donald, who knew that her son was not involved with drugs, was determined to obtain justice. She contacted Jessie Jackson who came to Mobile and led a protest march about the failed police investigation.
Thomas Figures, the assistant United States attorney in Mobile, managed to persuade the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) to look into the case. James Bodman was sent to Mobile and it did not take him long to persuade James Knowles to confess to the killing of Michael Donald.
In June 1983, Knowles was found guilty of violating Donald's civil rights and was sentenced to life imprisonment. Six months later, when Henry Hays was tried for murder, Knowles appeared as chief prosecution witness. Hays was found guilty and sentenced to death.
With the support of Morris Dees and Joseph J. Levin at the Southern Poverty Law Centre (SPLC), Beulah Mae Donald decided that she would use this case to try and destroy the Ku Klux Klan in Alabama. Her civil suit against the United Klans of America took place in February 1987. The all-white jury found the Klan responsible for the lynching of Michael Donald and ordered it to pay 7 million dollars. This resulted the Klan having to hand over all its assets including its national headquarters in Tuscaloosa.
After a long-drawn out legal struggle, Henry Hayes was executed on 6th June, 1997. It was the first time a white man had been executed for a crime against an African American since 1913.
For nearly twenty years lynching crimes have been committed and permitted by this Christian nation. Nowhere in the civilized world save the United States of America do men, possessing all civil and political power, go out in bands of 50 to 5,000 to hunt down, shoot, hang or burn to death a single individual, unarmed and absolutely powerless. Statistics show that nearly 10,000 American citizens have been lynched in the past 20 years. To our appeals for justice the stereotyped reply has been the government could not interfere in a state matter.
All my life I had known that such conditions were accepted as a matter of course. I found that this rape of helpless Negro girls and women, which began in slavery days, still continued without let or hindrance, check or reproof from the church, state, or press until there had been created this race within a race - and all designated by the inclusive term of "colored".
I also found that what the white man of the South practiced as all right for himself, he assumed to be unthinkable in white women. They could and did fall in love with the pretty mulatto and quadroon girls as well as black ones, but they professed an inability to imagine white women doing the same thing with Negro and mulatto men. Whenever they did so and were found out, the cry of rape was raised, and the lowest element of the white South was turned loose to wreak its fiendish cruelty on those too weak to help themselves.
No torture of helpless victims by heathen savages or cruel red Indians ever exceeded the cold-blooded savagery of white devils under lynch law. This was done by white men who controlled all the forces of law and order in their communities and who could have legally punished rapists and murderers, especially black men who had neither political power nor financial strength with which to evade any justly deserved fate. The more I studied the situation, the more I was convinced that the Southerner had never gotten over his resentment that the Negro was no longer his plaything, his servant, and his source of income.
Year Race Murder Murder Rape Total Lynchings 1896 31 24 31 86 1897 46 55 22 123 1898 39 47 16 102 1899 56 23 11 90 1900 57 30 16 103 Total 229 179 96 505
To those who say that most of these hideous and terrorizing acts have been committed in the name of chivalry, in order to make the lives and honor of women safe, perhaps it is women themselves who can best reply that bloodshed and arson and ungoverned anger have never yet controlled lust. On the contrary, that lust has always been the handmaid of these, and is prone to be found where they exist; that the suppression of the bestial cannot be accomplished by the counter exhibition of the brutal only. Perhaps it is woman who can best testify that the honor of women is only secure in those nations and those localities where law and order prevail; that the sight of human blood and the burning of human flesh has historically been the signal for lust; that an attempt to allay and control it by scenes such as those is as ignorant as it is futile and childish.
The town of Evansville, in Indiana, has been the scene for several days of anti-negro riots, which have been attended by the loss of ten lives. A negro was imprisoned in the gaol on a charge of murdering a policeman who was endeavouring to arrest him, and on Sunday a mob set out to break into the gaol and lynch the negro.
The authorities had received information beforehand of the intention, and they hurried the prisoner away to another town. When the mob found they had been baulked in their object they gave vent to their anger by attacking the negro settlements. Hundreds of negroes fled from the town, and the rioters began to loot the stores. The disturbances, according to information derived through Reuter's Agency, were continued on Monday, when the mob endeavoured to lynch so other negro prisoners.
The gaol was guarded by a company of militia and 100 deputy sheriffs. The crowd numbered over 1,000 persons, and at 10.30 attempted to storm the prison. They were beaten back with clubbed rifles, but again advanced, leaving behind several dead. It was afterwards found that amongst the killed was a girl who had been passing with her parents at the time. In the previous disturbances three other persons were killed; making a total of ten, whilst at least fourteen were injured.
Well, on Monday afternoon the mob began to gather. At first it was an absurd, ineffectual crowd, made up largely of lawless boys of sixteen to twenty - a pronounced feature of every mob - with a wide fringe of more respectable citizens, their hands in their pockets and no convictions in their souls, looking on curiously, helplessly. They gathered hooting around the jail, cowardly, at first, as all mobs are, but growing bolder as darkness came on and no move was made to check them. The murder of Collis was not a horrible, soul-rending crime like that at Statesboro, Georgia; these men in the mob were not personal friends of the murdered man; it was a mob from the back rooms of the swarming saloons of Springfield; and it included also the sort of idle boys "who hang around cigar stores," as one observer told me. The newspaper reports are fond of describing lynching mobs as "made up of the foremost citizens of the town." In no cases that I know of, either South or North, has a mob been made up of what may be called the best citizens; but the best citizens have often stood afar off "decrying the mob" - as a Springfield man told me piously - and letting it go on. A mob is the method by which good citizens turn over the law and the government to the criminal or irresponsible classes.
And no official in direct authority in Springfield that evening, apparently, had so much as an ounce of grit within him. The sheriff came out and made a weak speech in which he said he "didn't want to hurt anybody." They threw stones at him and broke his windows. The chief of police sent eighteen men to the jail but did not go near himself. All of these policemen undoubtedly sympathized with the mob in its efforts to get at the slayer of their brother officer; at least, they did nothing effective to prevent the lynching. An appeal was made to the Mayor to order out the engine companies that water might be turned on the mob. He said he didn't like to; the hose might be cut! The local militia company was called to its barracks, but the officer in charge hesitated, vacillated, doubted his authority, and objected finally because he had
no ammunition except Krag-Jorgenson cartridges, which, if fired into a mob, would kill too many people! The soldiers did not stir that night from the safe and comfortable precincts of their armory.
A sort of dry rot, a moral paralysis, seems to strike the administrators of law in a town like Springfield. What can be expected of officers who are not accustomed to enforce the law, or of a people not accustomed to obey it - or who make reservations and exceptions when they do enforce it or obey it?
When the sheriff made his speech to the mob, urging them to let the law take its course they jeered him. The law! When, in the past, had the law taken its proper course in dark County? Someone shouted, referring to Dixon:
"He'll only get fined for shooting in the city limits."
"He'll get ten days in jail and suspended sentence."
Then there were voices:
"Let's go hang Mower and Miller" - the two judges.
This threat, indeed, was frequently repeated both on the night of the lynching and on the day following.
So the mob came finally, and cracked the door of the jail with a railroad rail. This jail is said to be the strongest in Ohio, and having seen it, I can well believe that the report is true. But steel bars have never yet kept out a mob; it takes something a good deal stronger: human courage backed up by the consciousness of being right.
They murdered the Negro in cold blood in the jail doorway; then they dragged him to the principal business street and hung him to a telegraph-pole, afterward riddling his lifeless body with revolver shots.
That was the end of that. Mob justice administered. And there the Negro hung until daylight the next morning - an unspeakably grisly, dangling horror, advertising the shame of the town. His head was shockingly crooked to one side, his ragged clothing, cut for souvenirs, exposed in places his bare body: he dripped blood. And, with the crowds of men both here and at the morgue where the body was publicly exhibited, came young boys in knickerbockers, and little girls and women by scores, horrified but curious. They came even with baby carriages! Men made jokes: "A dead ****** is a good ******." And the purblind, dollars-and-cents man, most despicable of all, was congratulating the public:
'"It'll save the county a lot of money!"
Significant lessons, these, for the young!
But the mob wasn't through with its work. Easy people imagine that, having hanged a Negro, the mob goes quietly about its business; but that is never the way of the mob. Once released, the spirit of anarchy spreads and spreads, not subsiding until it has accomplished its full measure of evil.
In the sixteen years from 1884 to 1900 the number of persons lynched in the United States was 2,516. Of these 2,080 were in the Southern states and 436 in the North; 1,678 were Negroes and 801 were white men; 2,465 were men and 51 were women. Mississippi, Alabama, Louisiana and Georgia - the black belt states - are thus seen to have the worst records.
Every argument on lynching in the South gets back sooner or later to the question of rape. Ask any high-class citizen - the very highest - if he believes in lynching, and he will tell you roundly, "No". Ask him about lynching for rape, and in ninety-nine cases out of a hundred he will instantly weaken.
Lynching, he says, is absolutely necessary to keep down this crime. You ask him why the law cannot be depended upon, and he replies: "It is too great an ordeal for the self-respecting white woman to go into court and accuse the Negro ravisher and withstand a public cross-examination. It is intolerable. No woman will do it. And, besides, the courts are uncertain. Lynching is the only remedy."
If the white man sets an example of non-obedience to law, of non-enforcement of law, and an example of non-obedience to law, of non-enforcement of law, and of unequal justice, what can be expected of the Negro? A criminal father is a poor preacher of homilies to a wayward son. The Negro sees a man, white or black, commit murder and go free, over and over again in all these lynching counties. Why should he fear to murder?
Nine negroes were lynched on Sunday evening, near Hemphill, in Texas, in retaliation for the murder of two whites. A Reuter's telegram sent yesterday from Houston says:- To-day both whites and blacks are armed, and racial conflict seems imminent. The trouble began with the recent murder of a prominent local man named Dean, who was shot dead, six negroes being arrested in connection with the crime.
Then on Saturday evening a farmer named Johnson was killed by a shot fired through the window while he was seated at dinner with his family. A great crowd quickly formed, and after the gaol-keeper had been over-powered, the six men arrested for the murder of Dean were taken from the cells and five of them hanged on one tree. The sixth, who tried to escape, was also killed.
Later in the evening another negro was shot dead, and this morning the bodies of two more were found hanging from trees near the town. The negro who murdered Johnson, confessed he was paid five dollars to commit the crime. He has been taken to Beaumont for safe keeping.
The failure of the prosecution in this case, in all such cases, is only proof of the magnitude of the guilt, and of the awful fact that everyone shares in it. As I read the newspaper accounts of the scene enacted here in Coatesville a year ago, I seemed to get a glimpse into the unconscious soul of this country. I seemed to be looking into the heart of a criminal. The trouble has come down to us out of the past. The only reason that slavery is wrong is that it is cruel and makes men cruel and leaves them cruel. A nation cannot practice a course of inhuman crime for three hundred years and then suddenly throw off the effects of it.
There is scarcely a day that passes that newspapers don't tell about a Negro soldier lynched in his uniform. Why do they lynch Negroes, anyhow? With a white judge, a white jury, white public sentiment, white officers of law, it is impossible for a Negro accused of a crime, or even suspected of a crime, to escape a white man's vengeance or his justice.
All social classes, women and children, were present at the scene. Many ladies of high society followed the crowd from outside the prison, others joined in from neighbouring terraces. When the Negro's corpse fell, the pieces of rope were hotly contended for.
When everybody has had enough, the corpse is brought down. The rope is cut into small pieces which will be sold for three or four dollars each.
From 1889 to 1919, 2,600 blacks were lynched, including 51 women and girls and ten former Great War soldiers.
Among the charges brought against the victims of 1919, we note: one of having distributed revolutionary publications; one for expressing his opinion on lynchings too frequently; one of having been known as a leader of the cause of the blacks.
In 30 years, 708 whites, including 11 women, have been lynched. Some for having organized strikes, others for having espoused the cause of the blacks.
3,724 people were lynched in the United States from 1889 through to 1930. Of the tens of thousands of lynchers and onlookers, only 49 were indicted and only 4 have been sentenced."
"How about lynching, Senator? About the Costigan-Wagner bill in congress and that lynching down there yesterday in Franklinton..."
He ducked the Costigan-Wagner bill, but of course, everyone knows he is against it. He cut me off on the Franklinton lynching and hastened in with his "pat" explanation:
"You mean down in Washington parish (county)? Oh, that? That one slipped up on us. Too bad, but those slips will happen. You know while I was governor there were no lynchings and since this man (Governor Allen) has been in he hasn't had any. (There have been 7 lynchings in Louisiana in the last two years.) This one slipped up. I can't do nothing about it. No sir. Can't do the dead nigra no good. Why, if I tried to go after those lynchers it might cause a hundred more ******s to be killed. You wouldn't want that, would you?"
"But you control Louisiana," I persisted, "you could..."
"Yeah, but it's not that simple. I told you there are some things even Huey Long can't get away with. We'll just have to watch out for the next one. Anyway that ****** was guilty of coldblooded murder."
"But your own supreme court had just granted him a new trial."
"Sure we got a law which allows a reversal on technical points. This ****** got hold of a smart lawyer somewhere and proved a technicality. He was guilty as hell. But we'll catch the next lynching."
Mississippi: The white farmer has not always been the lazy, slipshod, good-for-nothing person that he is frequently described as being. Somewhere in his span of life he became frustrated. He felt defeated. He felt the despair and dejection that comes from defeat. He was made aware of the limitations of life imposed upon those unfortunate enough to be made slaves of sharecropping. Out of his predicament grew desperation, out of desperation grew resentment. His bitterness was a taste his tongue would always know.
In a land that has long been glorified in the supremacy of the white race, he directed his resentment against the black man. His normal instincts became perverted. He became wasteful and careless. He became bestial. He released his pent-up emotions by lynching the black man in order to witness the mental and physical suffering of another human being. He became cruel and inhuman in everyday life as his resentment and bitterness increased. He released his energy from day to day by beating mules and dogs, by whipping and kicking an animal into insensibility or to death. When his own suffering was more than he could stand, he could live only by witnessing the suffering of others.
This swelling wave of lynch murders and mob assaults against Negro men and women represents the ultimate limit of bestial brutality to which the enemies of democracy, be they German-Nazis or American Ku Kluxers, are ready to go in imposing their will. Are we going to give our America over to the Eastlands, Rankins and Bilbos? If not, then stop the lynchers! What about it. President Truman? Why have you failed to speak out against this evil? When will the federal government take effective action to uphold our constitutional guarantees? The leaders of this country can call out the Army and Navy to stop the railroad workers, and to stop the maritime workers - why can't they stop the lynchers?
That ordinary people did these things is deeply disturbing; that they manufactured a social rationale for their acts is more disturbing still. Look for a while at the picture of the lynching of Rubin Stacy, Fort Lauderdale, Florida, 1930. Look first at Stacy, then turn to the little girl in the summer dress, looking at Stacy, and then to the man behind her, perhaps her father, in the spotless white shirt and slacks and the clean white skimmer. They will stand there forever, admiring the proof of their civilization.
Southern trees bear a strange fruit,
Blood on the leaves and blood at the root,
Black body swinging in the Southern breeze,
Strange fruit hanging from the poplar trees.
Pastoral scene of the gallant South,
The bulging eyes and the twisted mouth,
Scent of magnolia sweet and fresh,
And the sudden smell of burning flesh!
June 6 will be a sad day for Alabamians, whether their skins are white, black or brown. On that day -- the previous night, really, at 12:01 a.m. - the state of Alabama will electrocute Henry Francis Hays for beating a black man to death 16 years ago, and then hanging his body from a tree.
The execution will rip the scab from the old, deep, nasty wound of racism, which in the 20th-century South alternately heals and festers. It will fester again this week as residents of the Heart of Dixie re-live the brutal death of 19-year-old Michael Donald.
It is a story of contrasts: The murderer, a white man, grew up in a home filled with hate and violence. The victim was reared by a loving mother and doting older siblings.
Henry Hays knew what he was about that night, when he and a friend set out to kill a black man. Michael Donald, on the other hand, was innocently walking up the street on a spring evening in Mobile to buy some cigarettes, when fate delivered him into the white men's hands.
Most vivid, though, is the contrast between fiction and reality. Michael Donald was murdered -- beaten to death with a tree limb -- not in the 1930s or '40s, even in the 1960s, but in 1981. Such things weren't supposed to happen almost 30 years after the Supreme Court declared "separate but equal'' unconstitutional, and nearly 20 years after the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
Nor were they supposed to happen in Mobile, which in the 1960s had somehow managed to avoid the racial violence that erupted in Selma and Birmingham.
Black men kidnapped and beaten, their bodies strung up in a tree? That was something that happened on the dark back roads of Dallas County or over in the Mississippi Delta, not in Alabama's second-largest city.
But hate crimes aren't constrained by time, place or suppositions. The reality is that Michael Donald died just 16 years ago at the hands of two Ku Klux Klansmen. So what if his death came years after lynchings were supposed to have ceased, and in a place not known for such things?
Barely out of childhood, he was a tragic, latter-day victim of a time when it was safer to be white -- when to be a black girl or woman was to invite sexual violence, and to be a black boy or man was to evoke daily disrespect, laced always with the potential for a fatal confrontation.
In the early hours of Friday morning, Henry Hays will pay for ending Michael Donald's life that day in 1981. He claims that he is innocent - death row residents generally say that - but the evidence shows otherwise. Yet Hays is also a victim, albeit in a much different way than Donald.
Reared by an abusive father who beat his sons mercilessly, he was steered into a life of brutality and hate -- a life that one day included membership in the KKK. Hays learned little about love and less about tolerance.
Death penalty advocates tout execution as a deterrent to crime, and maybe it is in some respects. Henry Hays' death, though, will serve mostly as a sad commentary on a society that in 1997 - less than three years from the turn of the century - is having to electrocute a man for murdering another man, solely because of the color of his skin.
The Infamous Lynching Site That Still Stands in Mississippi
I n June 1966, a black civil rights worker in Clarke County, Mississippi, met a fresh recruit at the local bus station. He loaded up John Cumbler, a white college student from Wisconsin, and took him for a ride. He drove south toward Shubuta, a small town of seven hundred located at the southern end of the county. Just north of town, John Otis Sumrall turned left onto a dirt road. Pocked with puddles, the route wound past a few clusters of cabins before narrowing into a densely wooded corridor. It seemed a road to nowhere, or at least nowhere one might want to go. A fork in the road revealed the Chickasawhay River, and a rusty bridge.
The steel-framed span loomed thirty feet above the muddy water. At the far end of the hundred-foot deck, the forest swallowed up a dirt road that used to lead somewhere. Years of traffic rumbling across the bridge had worn parallel streaks into the deck, and heavy runner boards covered holes in rotted planks. Metal rails sagged in spots. Still, the reddish-brown truss beams on either side stood stiff and straight, and overhead braces cast shadows on the deck below. On that rusty frame, between lines of vertical rivets, someone had painted a skull and crossbones and scribbled: &ldquoDanger, This Is You.&rdquo
&ldquoThis,&rdquo Sumrall announced to Cumbler, his new recruit, &ldquois where they hang the Negroes.&rdquo
&ldquoThe way he said it,&rdquo Cumbler remembered, &ldquoit could have happened a hundred years ago, or last week.&rdquo
Now closed to traffic, the Hanging Bridge still stands. In 1918, nearly a century ago and just five weeks after Armistice Day, a white mob hanged four young blacks&mdashtwo brothers and two sisters, both pregnant&mdashfrom its rails. This was several days after their white boss turned up dead. &ldquoPeople says they went down there to look at the bodies,&rdquo a local woman recalled fifty years later, &ldquoand they still see those babies wiggling around in the bellies after those mothers was dead.&rdquo When the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP)&mdashan organization less than ten years old at the time&mdash demanded an investigation, Mississippi governor Theodore Bilbo told them to go to hell.
Twenty-four years later, white vigilantes hanged Ernest Green and Charlie Lang&mdashfourteen and fifteen respectively&mdashafter a white girl accused them of attempted rape. Newspapers nationwide ran photographs of the two boys&rsquo corpses and that same river bridge. &ldquoShubuta Bridge&rsquos Toll Stands at Six Lynch Victims,&rdquo the Chicago Defender announced. &ldquoSome place the figure at eight,&rdquo the prominent black newspaper continued, &ldquocounting two unborn babies.&rdquo In the wake of the latest atrocity, the Defender dispatched a black journalist to the nation&rsquos new lynching capital. In Meridian, a small city forty miles north, the undercover reporter asked a black taxi driver for a ride to Shubuta. &ldquoNo sir,&rdquo the cabbie replied. &ldquoI&rsquod just as soon go to hell as to go there.&rdquo
Local whites proved just as blunt. A white undercover investigator sent to Clarke County in November 1942 spoke with a local farmer who bragged of his town&rsquos most infamous landmark. &ldquoIt&rsquos not in use anymore as a bridge,&rdquo he boasted. &ldquoWe just keep it for stringing up [n*****s].&rdquo Whites had to &ldquomob&rdquo blacks from time to time, he explained, to keep them in line. &ldquoWe had a case of that here just recently,&rdquo he added, &ldquotwo fourteen-year-old boys….We put four up during the last war.&rdquo
From Jim Crow&rsquos heyday to the earliest hints of its demise, the Shubuta bridge cast its shadow on Mississippi&rsquos white supremacist regime and the movement that ultimately overthrew it. In the World War I era, on the heels of a three-decade campaign to disenfranchise and segregate African Americans across the South, vigilantes used brutal violence to deter challenges to white supremacy. A generation later, during World War II, local whites again relied on racial terrorism to prop up an order they claimed was under unprecedented attack. In both of these pivotal moments, national attention and protest politics collided at a lonely river bridge, where the pervasive violence of the twentieth-century South rose sharply and tellingly to the surface.
The bridge boasted a history as gory as any lynching site in America, but its symbolic power outlasted the atrocities that occurred there. While local whites emphasized its usefulness in shoring up white supremacy, civil rights supporters recognized its potential to galvanize protest. After the 1942 lynchings, a black journalist branded the bridge a &ldquomonument to &lsquoJudge Lynch.&rsquo&rdquo The &ldquorickety old span,&rdquo Walter Atkins argued, &ldquois a symbol of the South as much as magnolia blossoms or mint julep colonels.&rdquo With its grim history, as well as with the myths and legends it inspired, the bridge reinforced white control and deterred black resistance. The structure was not just a monument but also an &ldquoaltar&rdquo to white supremacy, as the journalist put it, a place &ldquoto offer as sacrifices&rdquo anyone who threatened that power. The river below the bridge flowed gently, yet Atkins predicted &ldquoa long overdue flood that will smash and sweep away Shubuta bridge and all it stands for.&rdquo
A generation after the 1942 lynchings, that flood finally hit. Civil rights workers, federal agents, and television reporters poured into the state in the mid-1960s, though the rising tide of protests and marches did not reach everywhere. Despite massive demonstrations in nearby places such as Meridian and Hattiesburg, Clarke County seemed left high and dry. Even as local activists and allies across the state challenged segregation and disenfranchisement, the Hanging Bridge still stood as a reminder of Jim Crow&rsquos past and violent potential. Few civil rights workers ever set foot in Clarke County. The Mississippi movement&rsquos high-water mark&mdash1964&rsquos Freedom Summer&mdashcame and went with no Freedom Schools and no marches in Shubuta only a handful of the county&rsquos black residents registered to vote.
Local people had a ready answer for anyone who wondered why the movement seemed to have passed them by. Old-timers across the county still spoke of a bottomless &ldquoblue hole&rdquo in the snaking Chickasawhay River, where whites had dumped black bodies. Far more mentioned the bridge that spanned the murky water. The myths could be just as muddy, the details dependent on the storyteller. However the events were mythologized, a fundamental truth remained. &ldquoDown in Clarke County,&rdquo a Meridian movement leader recalled, &ldquothey lynched so many blacks.&rdquo A white northern journalist who visited in the wake of the 1942 lynchings predicted that the mob impulse would die hard. &ldquoThe lynching spirit means more than mob law,&rdquo he warned. &ldquoIt means the inability of so many white Southerners to keep their fists, their clubs, or their guns in their pockets when a colored person stands up for his legal rights.&rdquo
When black activists in Clarke County defied mobs and memory in pursuit of political power and economic opportunity, they provoked a new round of violent reprisals. In the process, they fixed outside attention on problems that persisted in the wake of the soaring speeches and legislative victories of the civil rights era. In this rural corner of Mississippi previously known for lynchings, those activists used that infamous reputation to focus national attention on ongoing battles against racial terrorism, grinding poverty, and government repression. Their story reaches back into generations when the rural South seemed all but cut off from national campaigns against discrimination and abuse, but grassroots activism in Clarke County also extends the story deep into the 1960s and beyond. Racial violence&mdashboth in bursts of savagery that sent tremors far beyond Mississippi&rsquos borders and in the everyday brutalities that sustained and outlived Jim Crow&mdashconnects the generations and geographies of America&rsquos civil rights century. In reclaiming these stories, we bridge the gap between ourselves and a past less distant than many care to admit. To acknowledge the role of violence in shaping our racial past is no guarantee that we can face honestly the ways in which it informs our racial present, but it is a place to start. In the history of lynching, place is often difficult to pin down with precision&mdashhanging trees long since felled, killing fields reclaimed by nature, rivers and bayous that hide the dead. Yet one of America&rsquos most evocative and bloodstained lynching sites still spans a muddy river, and it still casts a shadow.
The History Of Lynching In America Is Worse Than You Think, Says Study
ATLANTA, Feb 10 (Reuters) - Lynchings in which mobs raided jailhouses to hang, torture and burn alive black men, sometimes leading to public executions in courthouse squares, occurred more often in the U.S. South than was previously known, according to a report released on Tuesday.
The slightest transgression could spur violence, the Equal Justice Initiative found, as it documented 3,959 victims of lynching in a dozen Southern states.
The group said it found 700 more lynchings of black people in the region than had been previously reported. The research took five years and covered 1877 to 1950, the period from the end of post-Civil War Reconstruction to the years immediately following World War Two.
The report cited a 1940 incident in which Jesse Thornton was lynched in Alabama for not saying "Mister" as he talked to a white police officer.
In 1916, men lynched Jeff Brown for accidentally bumping into a white girl as he ran to catch a train, the report said.
Bryan Stevenson, founder and director of the Montgomery, Alabama-based EJI, said that while current events did not directly equate with lynching, "what happened then has its echoes in today's headlines."
He cited racial differences in reactions to last year's shooting death of an unarmed black teenager in Ferguson, Missouri, by a white police officer.
The group said the report was aimed at spurring Americans to face the lasting impact of their history. It also would like to see historical markers placed across the South to note sites where lynchings occurred.
Calling the violence racial terror designed to subjugate black people through fear, Stevenson and his associates sought to catalog every lynching in 12 states: Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas and Virginia.
"The South is littered with monuments for the Civil War," Stevenson said. "But we haven't looked at the great evil of slavery. Its aftermath morphed into terrorism of lynching."
"We as Americans haven't dealt with our full history," he added.
Sociology professor E.M. Beck of the University of Georgia agreed that past lynchings had affected perceptions of justice.
"Many white people look on the police as their protectors, defenders of their rights, and blacks can look at the same officers as part of a system sent to control and contain them," he said. (Editing by Letitia Stein and Peter Cooney)
Duluth police officers, 1919.
Six Black men were immediately arrested by the Duluth Police and held in the Duluth city jail, located inside the police station on the corner of Second Avenue and Superior Street. Already reported in the local newspaper, news of the alleged rape spread rapidly. That evening a white mob estimated between 1,000 and 10,000 people gathered on Superior Street outside the police station. They met little resistance from the police, who had been ordered not to use their guns.
Lynching - History
Paula Giddings, professor of Afro-American Studies at Smith College, discusses the history and origins of lynching.
Scope and Sequence
The legal definition of lynching is when three or more persons, which constitute a mob, put someone to death extralegally, without court sanction, without legal sanction, and they do it for the purpose of tradition and/or whatever their version of justice is. And this becomes a legal definition by the 1920s, so the NAACP and their struggle, of course, against lynching and trying to make lynching a federal crime.
Lynching actually begins in the Revolutionary War years, and it's named after the brother of the man who founded Lynchburg, Virginia. And lynching took place—this is "extralegal justice," in quotes, takes place during that period of time, because it's not too many courts. It's, sort of, difficult to get to them. This is a period that the British are also in place in many places in the South, and so it becomes very dangerous to move around. And so this is a form of justice, of local justice, that is not condoned by a formal court.
It's interesting—it's not until 1886 that the number of black lynch victims actually exceed the number of white lynch victims. So this is an American tradition that becomes racialized later for a number of reasons. There's a constant struggle over the meaning of who deserves the protection and rights that are talked about in the US Constitution. And what happens, of course, is that one of the function of a stereotype, of a racial stereotype, is to show that someone is undeserving of first-class citizenship. And until rather recently, first-class citizenship was seen not as a right but as a privilege.
And it was a privilege accorded to those with a particular character and who lived their life in a particular way and had the honor that you are talking about. This really stymied activism, because in the history, African American history, there was, which still exists to some extent, a big conservative element that really says, if we live our life a certain way, we're going to get—we're going to become first-class citizens. Because what the Constitution says, but it's a privilege, it's not a right.
In the late 19th century, an evolving scientific theory claimed that human beings could be categorized and ranked by such constructs as social standing and group affiliation.
Drawing on Charles Darwin's theory of biology that the fittest will survive, this science, called Social Darwinism, perpetuated various myths about how societies evolved.
One particularly destructive myth was that black people were inferior to white people.
And therefore, there was a justification to suppress their advancement in all areas, lest the society as a whole be brought down.
There had been prejudices always around color ever since the first Africans came to the US, but they change. And in the late 19th century with the advent of Social Darwinism and the need to think about black people and black labor and black bodies in a particular way, we begin to see this idea that blacks are actually beginning to devolve down the evolutionary scale, devolve into more primitive identities. And with primitive, of course, is lasciviousness and lack of control, lack of character, lack of honor, et cetera. And scientists actually sought to prove these things empirically.
And from there, they begin to also think about the notion of what is happening to women. The idea around women's sexuality begins to change in this period of time as well. So this need for this passionless sort of idea of white women who need to maintain their purity and the purity of the race, which is one of the fears, the bugaboos that come up around interracial relationships and this charge of rape.
While there was no shortage of reasons for discrimination against black people by white in this period, the emerging myth of the threat of the rape of a white woman by a black man became a tense focal point, and the often false accusation of rape, the chief justification for lynching.
One person of the period to expose this destructive myth was black journalist and anti-lynching activist Ida B. Wells.
Ida Wells was a activist, a woman who was born in Holly Springs, Mississippi in 1862. And in 1892, a very good friend of hers was actually lynched in Memphis, Tennessee by the name of Tom Moss and two other men along with him. And what she begins to understand is that lynching is really taking on a new kind of face, quite literally. That blacks are being victimized, now, in greater numbers. And the reason that is given for this rise in lynchings, which reaches a peak in 1892, is the accusation that black men are raping white women.
And she says it's new, because there's no history of this in the numbers that people are professing. She knows that Thomas Moss certainly hasn't, and there's a whole history—there's a reason why he was lynched. He was actually competing successfully with another—with a white store owner.
So what she does, which is really makes her so interesting, I think, an activist, is she becomes an investigative reporter. And so when she starts talking against lynching, it's not—she's just not giving an opinion, she's actually going to the sites of lynchings. She's using statistics that other people also use to disprove the idea. By simply finding out instances when there was a charge of rape that often there were just consensual relationships between black men and white women.
And that in and of itself just it turns the world upside down. Because if it's consensual, black men aren't monsters, as even now the social scientists are saying. If it's consensual, white women aren't desexualized and innocent of any kind of behavior or in need of all this protection, which is—which black people are being killed in the name of. So it's a notion that really involves all of them, and they're all often dependent on the other and defined in opposition to the other. You can't have white people if you don't have black people, right, with all of the characteristics that are also defined in opposition to one another.
I mean, this is one reason why you have to have lynching—that even segregation, there's too much equality—I mean there's just—you have to have something that really distinguishes white people from black people. And having black people be lynch victims and white people able to be the spectators, now that's difference. Now, that is a difference that is consistent.
According to the Tuskegee Institute, from 1882 to 1951, 4,730 people, mostly black, were lynched in the United States.
Lynching in America: Confronting the Legacy of Racial Terror documents EJI’s multi-year investigation into lynching in 12 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.
EJI collaborated with renowned artist Molly Crabapple on this animated video, which unflinchingly explores America’s brutal history of lynching and racial terror.
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.”
Lynching - History
A Red Record documents lynchings in the American South, starting with North Carolina. The title, A Red Record, is drawn from Ida B. Wells-Barnett’s work by the same name and is intended, in a small way, to recognize Wells-Barnett’s remarkable courage and commitment to justice. Our research also corroborates Wells-Barnett’s core argument: that lynching was much more than just a response to crime. It was part of a narrative of white supremacy that sought to write out Black success, Black families, and Black personhood.
Started in February of 2015, A Red Record aims to
- identify and mark the locations of lynchings in the former Confederacy, and over time, all the states in the former Confederacy
- provide access to relevant manuscript material about lynching events
- remember the targets of lynching as whole persons with families, jobs, and identities beyond that of victims
- offer users both broad and specific information about lynching for research, teaching, and other uses
- create a space for one facet of an important conversation about race, violence, and power in the United States
This project seeks to address the irony that despite the fact that members of lynch mobs documented their activities deliberately and prolifically, the physical spaces where lynchings took place remain, by and large, unmarked. This project visualizes lynchings in new ways, to the extent possible privileging images of modern sites of historic lynchings over the mob-produced images of bodies that were intended to terrorize African Americans.
Future iterations of the project will seek to engage community partners in diverse styles of documentation integrate lynching and death penalty data address the politics of press coverage and include attempted lynchings, not just those that resulted in a death.
This site used a variety of sources to identify recorded lynchings, including historic sources such as contemporaneous counts by NAACP, Tuskegee Institute, and the Chicago Tribune. Those sources contributed to more recent counts, including Stuart Tolnay and E.M. Beck’s database and Stuart Tolnay’s database, available here. We reconciled these data sets to produce the most comprehensive and accurate database possible. Additional lynchings were added based on newspaper reports or other archival discoveries.
Elijah Gaddis and Seth Kotch direct this project.
Recent contributors include Gray Van Dyke, Ellie Little, and Morgan Vickers.
Undergraduate student historians include Jennifer Davidowitz, Sarah Dwyer, Dallas Ellis, Jared Feeny, Ava Gruchacz, Robert Haisfield, Jennifer Hausler, Harry Heyworth, Kara Kochek, Daniel Lee, Landon Mays, George Pancio, Ellis Pearson, Sara Pyo, Austin Seamster, Holden Shearin, Courtland Stout, Nik Stylianou, Zachary Sukkasem, Alondra Vargas, Patrick Vickers, Lauren Wagaman, Marianna Baggett, Gabrielle Brown, Anna Conway, Connor Davies, Dylan Farrow, Katelin Franklin, Patrick Hargrove, Georgina Ho, Courtenay James, Joel Janssen, Michael Johnston, Sami Kerker, Christina Kochanski, Mackenzie Kwok, Anna L’hommedieu, Taylor McCarn, Shuler Mehaffey, David Mossman, Kirsten Paulus, Marshall Ranson, John Ronan, Maher Shukr, Anji Sivakumar, Ward Snyder, Alex Taub, Kate Terentieva, Emily West, Basil Williams, Hannah Williams, Maggie Bauer, Laura Blinson, Flare Brown, Elissa Dawson, Ian Dewars, Hattie Ferguson, Lauren Fitzgibbons, Myranda Harris, Chrisana Hughes, Iqra Javed, Eimi Ledford, Molly McConnell, Blake Morgan, Rob Murphy, Namiko Nagata, Jack Palagruto, Jackson Parrish, Corbin Phifer, Nick Polino, Hudson Spangler, Jason Strowbridge, Maddy Sweitzer-Lamme, Morgan Vickers, and Joanna Williams.
Graduate student historians include Kawan Allen, Ina Dixon, Gale Greenlee, Benjamin J. Murphy, Josh Parshall, Susie Penman, and Matt Swiatlowski.
Community historians include Sarah Carrier, Jan Davidson, Dr. Rhonda Jones, Peter Newport, Crystal Regan, Jane Sellars, and Victor Yang.
This project is generously supported by a Humanities for the Public Good Critical Issues Award.
Many whites were lynched for fighting racism
Black lives matter. They always have. White lives matter, too. The truth is, lives matter. Life matters. So when any life is unjustly taken it is the worst kind of tragedy. But if we refuse to accept facts and instead cling to preconceptions, misconceptions and prejudice, we then choose to replace ignorance with stupidity and history with fantasy.
Lynching is the unjustified setting aside of judicial due process for mob vengeance. Mob violence in the form of lynching brings law into contempt. President Reagan once stated: &ldquoWithout law, there can be no freedom, only chaos and disorder. And without freedom, law is but a cynical veneer for injustice and oppression.&rdquo Lynching is, by definition and by its nature, lawless.
No prominent monument or memorial exists to commemorate the thousands of African-Americans who were lynched during the era of racial terrorism in America. But in 2018, the Equal Justice Initiative will open a national memorial to African-American victims of lynching. The memorial will be located on six acres of land atop a rise that overlooks Montgomery, and out to the American South, where lynchings were most prevalent. However, there is a dearth of public awareness, knowledge or memory regarding the lynching of whites in America.
"The Negro Holocaust: Lynching and Race Riots in the United States, 1880-1950" states that, contrary to present-day popular conception, lynching was not a crime committed exclusively against black people. Between the 1830s and the 1850s the majority of those lynched in the United States were whites. From 1882-1968, some 4,743 lynchings occurred in the United States (not all lynchings were recorded). Of these, 3,446 or 73 percent were black and 1,297 (27 percent) were white. In other words, whites were the victims of more than one-fourth of all lynchings in the United States.
The vast majority (79 percent) of lynchings occurred in the South. Mississippi had the highest number of lynchings from 1882-1968 with 581, Georgia was second with 531, and Texas was third with 493. For blacks, most of the lynchings occurred in the South. Of the lynchings that did not take place in the South, most occurred in the West, and these were often lynchings of whites, not blacks. Note that for whites, it was equally likely that they would be lynched in Colorado (65) as Kentucky (63), Mississippi (42) as California (41), or Oregon (20) as West Virginia (20). Ninety percent of whites were lynched in nine states mostly in a swath from Montana, to Nebraska, Oklahoma, Arkansas and Texas. Ninety percent of blacks were lynched in the four Southern states of Mississippi, Georgia, Texas and Louisiana. Whites and blacks were lynched in &ldquorelatively equal&rdquo numbers in New York, New Jersey, Minnesota, Illinois and Missouri.
The worst year for whites was 1884 when 160 whites were lynched. For blacks, the highest number of lynchings occurred in 1892 when 161 were lynched. Three-fourths of all white lynchings occurred in the 14-year span from1882-1895. It took 28 years (1882-1909) for three-fourths of all black lynchings. There seems to have been a relative decline in lynchings generally beginning in 1901.
Not all states lynched people. Alaska, Rhode Island, New Hampshire, Massachusetts and Connecticut had no reported lynchings between 1882-1968. Even among those states that did have lynchings, seven states did not lynch any blacks: Arizona, Idaho, Maine, Nevada, South Dakota, Vermont and Wisconsin. Delaware is the only state in which a black person was lynched and no whites were lynched. Of the 44 states in which lynchings occurred, 23 (52 percent) states lynched more white people than black.
While some whites were lynched for murder or stealing cattle, there is another important reason many were lynched. Many whites were lynched for helping blacks or being anti-lynching. According to David Barton&rsquos extensively well-documented book, "Setting the Record Straight: American History in Black & White," the original targets of the Ku Klux Klan were Republicans, both black and white. The Klan terrorized both black and white Americans not to vote for Republican tickets. &ldquoOf all forms of violent intimidation, lynchings were by far the most effective.&rdquo Republicans often led the efforts to pass federal anti-lynching laws and their platforms consistently called for a ban on lynching. &ldquoDemocrats successfully blocked those bills and their platforms never did condemn lynchings.&rdquo
So there it is, the inconvenient truth. The truth that more than 1,000 whites were lynched and many of them were lynched because they were Republican, because they supported their fellow black citizens and because they opposed the lawless act of lynching. Equal rights, political autonomy, personal freedom &mldr these are fundamental principles of our democracy. But they have not always been so. More than 360,000 whites fought and died in the (un)Civil War to help defeat slavery. And many whites were lynched because they believed that these principles also belong to black Americans. Racism is not dead in America, but the fact remains that many whites have died trying to defeat it.
Alabama Voices columnist Richard Emanuel, Ph.D., is a professor of communication at Alabama State University. Emanuel has taught for more than three decades at two-year and four-year public and private colleges. He has authored dozens of research articles that have been published in national and international refereed academic journals.
Barton, David. Setting the Record Straight: American History in Black & White. Aledo, TX: Wallbuilder Press, 2004.
Collins, Alan C. The Story of American Pictures. New York: Doubleday & Company, Inc., 1953.
Gibson, Robert A. The Negro Holocaust: Lynching and Race Riots in the United States, 1880-1950, Yale-New Haven Teachers Institute, &ldquoLynching,&rdquo Retrieved June 7, 2017 from teachersinstitute.yale.edu/curriculum/units/1979/2/79.02.04.x.html
National Party Platforms, 1840-1976, Supplement 1980. Edited by Donald B. Johnson.
Champaign-Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1982, Republican Platforms of 1920, 1924, 1928, 1940, 1944, 1952 cited in the American Reference Library. Orem, UT: Western Standard Publishing Company, 1998.
The Price in Blood! Casualties in the Civil War, Retrieved June 6, 2017 from
Remarks on Signing the Law Day Proclamation, April 9, 1984, The American Presidency
Project, Retrieved June 5, 2017 from www.presidency.ucsb.edu/ws/?pid=39742
Tuskegee University Archives, Retrieved from archive.tuskegee.edu/archive/handle/123456789/511
Zangrando, Robert L. The NAACP Crusade Against Lynching, 1909-1950. Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1980.
The origin of the word &ldquolynching&rdquo has several explanations. The most common account has it derived from Charles Lynch, a justice of the peace in Virginia, who excessively punished Loyalists during the Revolutionary War. Thus, extreme punishment became known as &ldquoLynch Law.&rdquo Another explanation, from the Oxford English Dictionary, suggests that the term derives from Lynches Creek, South Carolina. By 1768 Lynches Creek was known as a meeting site for the Regulators, a group of vigilantes who used violence against their opponents. These early definitions of lynching refer to forms of frontier vigilantism. After the Civil War and Reconstruction, lynching took on a new, racial connotation and was primarily carried out by whites against African Americans. This racial violence gave white southerners a way to express and reaffirm their white southern identity. It also deterred African Americans from attempting to assert the equality granted to them under the Thirteenth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.
Lynching became so widespread that the years 1882 to 1930 have been termed the &ldquolynching era.&rdquo The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) defined lynching during this period as murder committed extralegally by three or more persons who claim to be serving justice. Between 1882 and 1930 the number of lynching victims in the South totaled 2,805. South Carolina, with 156, had the second-fewest lynching victims. Mississippi, with 538 victims, had the most.
The justifications for mob violence had little regional variation across the South as they shared the common intention of disenfranchising blacks. During this era, drawing on scientific racism, white southerners created and articulated an image of African American males as black, beastly rapists whose animal-like sexuality threatened white women&rsquos purity. White men claimed that lynching was a way to protect themselves and, more importantly, their women from black aggression. Racial violence offered white southerners a chance to &ldquoredeem&rdquo southern society, restoring it to its pre-Reconstruction state. South Carolina governor Benjamin Tillman represented these beliefs about African Americans and southern white male responsibilities. In 1892 Tillman spoke of his own willingness to lead a lynch mob against any black man who had been accused of raping a white woman.
Antilynching advocates, such as Ida B. Wells and Jesse Ames of the Association of Southern Women for the Prevention of Lynching, revealed that contrary to white claims, the majority of lynch victims were not accused of raping white women. In actuality, only nineteen percent of black victims in the South were accused of rape. Victims were lynched for a wide range of behavior, including such illegalities as murder, theft, arson, and assault, as well as for such disrespectful actions as trying to vote, being disruptive, and frightening a white woman.
South Carolina was the site of one of the largest lynchings. On December 28, 1889, in Barnwell County eight African American men were accused of murdering a local merchant. A mob broke them out of jail, tied them to trees, and then shot them. In 1926 Aiken was the site of the Lowman family lynching. A sheriff and his deputies, all members of the Ku Klux Klan, arrived to arrest one of the Lowman sons. Upon hearing that the boy was gone, the sheriff attacked his sister. The resulting scuffle ended with mother Lowman shot by the sheriff, who in turn was killed by a stray bullet. The remaining Lowmans were arrested and tried. When one brother was acquitted, a Klan-led mob stormed the jail, dragged them out, and shot them.
The last lynching in South Carolina occurred on February 17, 1947, when a white mob murdered Willie Earle, a young black man who had been arrested for murdering a white taxicab driver. Although those responsible were acquitted, Earle&rsquos murder marked a turning point for lynching in South Carolina. State and federal law enforcement agents conducted an intensive investigation of the crime that resulted in several arrests and a vigorous prosecution of the accused.
The Earle murder was the culmination of a decline in lynching that occurred during the 1930s and 1940s, which reflected a larger social change. The &ldquoGreat Migration&rdquo of African Americans to northern cities in the 1930s changed labor dynamics in the South. Lynchings, which previously were a form of punishment for interpersonal violence, became a form of social repression, targeted not at criminals but at successful African Americans. By the 1940s the social dynamics that had allowed whites to lynch without fear of repercussions were effectively gone, and so gradually the lynching era came to an end.
Finnegan, Terrence R. &ldquo&lsquoAt the Hands of Parties Unknown&rsquo: Lynching in Mississippi and South Carolina, 1881&ndash1940.&rdquo Ph.D. diss., University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, 1993.
Royster, Jacqueline Jones, ed. Southern Horrors and Other Writings: The Anti-Lynching Campaign of Ida B. Wells, 1892&ndash1900. Boston: Bedford, 1996. Tolnay, Stewart E., and E. M. Beck. A Festival of Violence: An Analysis of Southern Lynchings, 1882&ndash1930. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1995.
Legends of America
“Hanging one scoundrel, it appears, does not deter the next. Well, what of it? The first one is at least disposed of.”
— H.L. Mencken (1880-1956)
Detail from a painting by Pisanello, 1436–1438.
Execution by hanging was the most popular legal and extralegal form of putting criminals to death in the United States from its beginning. Brought over to the states from our English ancestors, the method actually originated in Persia (now Iran) about 2,500 years ago. Hanging soon became the method of choice for most countries, as it produced a highly visible deterrent by a simple method. It also made a good public spectacle, considered important during those times, as viewers looked above them to the gallows or tree to watch the punishment. Legal hangings, practiced by the early American colonists, were readily accepted by the public as a proper form of punishment for serious crimes like theft, rape, and murder. It was also readily practiced for activities that are not considered crimes today, such as witchcraft, sodomy, and concealing a birth.
For centuries, most hangings were carried out by the sheriff or legal entity of the town or county where the death sentence had been passed. Prisoner’s deaths were usually painful as most executioners were not proficient enough to know how to calculate the correct “drop” of the hangman’s noose to ensure breaking the neck. Thus the victim usually died by strangulation. The use of gallows with a trap door did not become common practice until the 1870s. Before that, most were hanged from a tree branch, being turned off the back of a cart, or from a horse.
Hangings began in the U.S. pretty much when settlements began to be formed in the “New World.” One of the first was a man named John Billington, who arrived with the original band of pilgrims at Plymouth Rock on the Mayflower in 1620. Allegedly, Billington was prone to blasphemous language, and during the journey over the ocean, the ship’s captain, Miles Standish, had Billington’s feet and neck tied together as an example of a sin-struck man possessed of a Devil’s tongue. But, that’s not what got him hanged rather, it was but an unpleasant experience for the blasphemer. However, ten years later, Billington became the prime suspect in the murder of another settler by the name of John Newcomen. Soon, the man was summarily hanged by an angry mob of pilgrims in 1630.
The earliest recorded female hanged in America was Jane Champion in 1632 in Virginia for an unknown offense. Up until the late 1640s, hangings of men during these early pilgrim times were usually caused by sexual offenses such as sodomy or bestiality and women were most often hanged for concealing a birth. However, this all began to change in 1647 when many began to be hanged for practicing witchcraft.
Guilty of “flapping his hands and arms” and “behaving in a peculiar manner,” Thomas Hellier, a 14-year-old white boy, became a suspect in a rash of thefts and was sentenced to a life of bondage on a Virginia plantation. Never agreeable to his servile status, Hellier was sold several years later to a harsh taskmaster named Cutbeard Williamson. After Williamson, Williamson’s wife, and a maid were murdered with an ax while they slept one night, Hellier was assumed to be the murderer and hanged by a mob on August 5, 1678. His body was lashed with chains to a tall tree overlooking the James River, where it remained for several years until it rotted away.
Drawing of the hanging of Bridget Bishop, one of the 13 “witches” hanged in 1692.
Culminating in 1692, both men and women were hanged after the notorious witchcraft trials in Salem, Massachusetts. One of these notorious cases was four-year-old Dorcas Goode, who was convicted of witchcraft and sent to prison in 1692. She was the daughter of Sarah Goode, who was one of the first three people accused of witchcraft. Little Dorcas was taken to prison with her mother, and at one point, she confessed to practicing witchcraft. Her mother certainly told her to do that to save her life. As it turned out, Sarah Goode was hanged on July 19, 1692, and her little daughter stayed in prison for several more months. When she was finally released, she had lost her mind. Later her father petitioned the authorities for help in taking care of her.
During the American Revolution, the term ‘lynch law’ originated with Colonel Charles Lynch, a Virginia planter and his associates, who began to make their own vigilante rules for confronting the British Tories, loyalists to England, and other criminal elements.
This type of rough justice was also used regularly by whites against their African American slaves. Those white men who protested were often in danger of being lynched themselves. One such man was Elijah Lovejoy, editor of the Alton [Illinois] Observer, who was shot by a white mob after publishing articles criticizing lynching and advocating the abolition of slavery.
After the revolution, the most common hangings of white men were due to war-related crimes such as spying, espionage, treason, or desertion. Blacks were summarily hanged, at the will of their owners, most often for the “official” reason of revolt. However, it could have been for any cause whatsoever and merely “labeled” as such. Whites who sympathized with the slaves were also often hanged.
Vigilantes hang a man from a tree.
It was also during this time that vigilantism arose in the absence of formal criminal justice systems. Most often called vigilance committees, these groups got together to blacklist, harass, banish, “tar and feather,” flog, mutilate, torture, or kill people who were perceived as threats to their communities or families. By the late 1700s, these committees became known as lynch mobs because almost all the time, the punishment handed out was a summary execution by hanging.
In the first part of the 19th century, opponents of slavery, cattle rustlers, horse thieves, gamblers, and other “desperadoes” in the South and the Old West were the most common targets of those who were not ofAfrican American descent. Meanwhile, hangings, burnings, and whippings continued to kill slaves with common regularity.
The state of Montana holds the record for the bloodiest vigilante movement from 1863 to 1865, when hundreds of suspected horse thieves were rounded up and killed in massive mob actions. Texas, Montana, California, and the Deep South, especially the city of New Orleans, Louisiana, were hotbeds of vigilante activity in American history.
“Lynching” found an easy acceptance as the nation expanded west to the frontier, where raw conditions encouraged swift punishment for real or imagined criminal behavior. Vigilance committees, consisting of several dozens to several hundred men, formed quickly who summarily decided to execute to repress crime. Even where official law enforcement did exist, prisoners were sometimes dragged from jail by a lynch mob and executed.
The Hanging of Pretty Juanita.
One of the first recorded hangings in the West of a woman was during 1849 when miners pioneered the boomtowns of California where gambling, drinking, violence, and vigilante justice were common. One woman, known as “Pretty Juanita,” was convicted of murder after stabbing a man who had tried to rape her. Before she was hung, she gave a laugh and a salute as the rope pulled tight around her neck. She was the first person hanged in the California mining camps.
On June 2, 1850, five Cayuse Indians were hanged in Oregon City for the Whitman massacre. All five had turned themselves in to spare their people from persecution. Before the execution, one of the condemned by the name of Tiloukait said: “Did not your missionaries teach us that Christ died to save his people? So we die to save our people.”
The hanging of James P. Casey and Charles Cora, Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Newspaper, 1856.
In June 1851, an Australian with a bad reputation became the first victim of San Francisco’s”vigilance” committee. Caught in the act of stealing a safe, Jenkins, along with three other Australians from Sydney, were subjected to a mock trial, then marched to San Francisco’s Custom House, where they all had nooses put around their necks and were hanged on the spot. A second San Francisco “vigilance” committee was formed in 1856 and lynched two men, James P. Casey and Charles Cora. Casey had shot and killed a newspaper editor named James King, who had been bolding assaulting evildoers in his newspaper. Charles Cora, an Italian gambler, had shot and killed a U.S. marshal named Richardson in November 1855.
A mob of about 6,000 persons either helped to perpetrate or witnessed the lynching of the two men. Casey and Cora were seized and hanged from projecting beams rigged on the roof of a building on Sacramento Street. Before the mob dissipated, two more unidentified men were hung from the beams for unknown reasons.
Other non-vigilante lynchings were also occurring with regularity, such as the hanging of two slaves on July 11, 1856, in South Carolina for aiding a runaway slave, and the hanging of four black male slaves on December 5th of the same year, allegedly for “revolting” against the state of Tennessee.
Though lynchings were always more prone to blacks, two white criminals were in Iowa in 1857, one for murder and the other for counterfeiting and theft.
April 9, 1859, saw Colorado’s first execution in settlement of Denver. John Stoefel was hanged for shooting his brother-in-law. Both men were gold prospectors, and Stoefel wanted his brother-in-law’s gold dust. Because the nearest official court was in Leavenworth, Kansas, a “people’s court” was assembled, where Stoefel was convicted and hanged within 48 hours of the murder. Though Denver consisted of only 150 buildings at the time, about 1,000 spectators attended the Stoefel hanging.
Meanwhile, trouble has been brewing along the Kansas/Missouri border over the issue of slavery for several years. The fanatical activist John Brown had been a primary participant in what became known as “Bleeding Kansas.” John Brown was hanged on December 2, 1859, at Charles Town, West Virginia. Just two weeks later, on 16, Shields Green and John Anthony Copeland, two of five African-American conspirators, were hanged for their participation in John Brown’s raid on Harper’s Ferry. Copeland was led to the gallows shouting, “I am dying for freedom. I could not die for a better cause. I had rather die than be a slave.”
In the Antebellum days of Texas between 1846 and 1861, vigilantes instigated most of the lynchings. Often these vigilantes imitated legal court procedure, trying the offender before a vigilante judge and jury.
Though convictions most often resulted in whipping, 140 offenders were lynched during this time frame. Vigilante groups increased in frequency with the approach of the Civil War when mobs frequently sought out suspected slave rebels and white abolitionists.
The tension came to a head on September 13, 1860, when abolitionist Methodist minister Anthony Bewley was lynched in Fort Worth, Texas. Bewley, born in Tennessee in 1804, had established a mission sixteen miles south of Fort Worth by 1858. When vigilance committees alleged in the summer of 1860 that there was a widespread abolitionist plot to burn Texas towns and murder their citizens, suspicion immediately fell upon Bewley and other outspoken critics of slavery.
Recognizing the danger, Bewley left for Kansas in mid-July with part of his family. A Texas posse caught up with him near Cassville, Missouri, and returned him to Fort Worth on September 13. Late that night, vigilantes seized Bewley and delivered him into the hands of a waiting lynch mob. His body was allowed to hang until the next day, when he was buried in a shallow grave. Three weeks later, his bones were unearthed, stripped of their remaining flesh, and placed on top of Ephraim Daggett’s storehouse, where children made a habit of playing with them.
But the violence in Texas did not end with Bewley. As rumors continued of a slave insurrection, it led to the lynching of an estimated thirty to fifty slaves and possibly more than twenty whites over the next two years. The entire affair culminated in the greatest mass lynching in the state’s history, in what is now called “The Great Hanging at Gainesville.” During a thirteen-day period in October 1862, vigilantes hanged 41 suspected Unionists.
Execution of 38 Sioux, Mankato, Minnesota, December 26, 1862.
During the same year, the Sioux Uprising resulted in more than 500 dead white settlers on August 17th. Reacting from broken government promises and corrupt Indian agents and going hungry when promised food was not distributed, the uprising began when four young Sioux murdered five white settlers in Acton, Minnesota. A military court sentenced 303 Santee Sioux to die, but President Abraham Lincoln reduced the list to 38. Outraged, several hundred white civilians tried to lynch the 303 Santee Sioux on December 4, 1862. The soldiers, protecting the prisoners at a camp on the Minnesota River, were able to stop the angry crowd. However, on December 16, 1862, the 38 condemned Indian prisoners were hanged in Mankato, Minnesota, an event known as the largest mass hanging in United States history. Afterward, the government nullified the 1951 treaty with the Santee Sioux.
Active Civil War tensions were brewing everywhere, and on January 23, 1863, Confederate soldiers hanged a Fort Smith, Arkansas attorney. Martin Hart had previously served in the Texas legislature, where he spoke out against succession. However, when Texas became a part of the Confederacy, Martin resigned from his government post.
Soon, he organized the Greenville Guards, pledging the company’s services “in defense of Texas” against invasion. Though he was under a Confederate commission, he spied against the Confederacy. In Arkansas, he led a series of rear-guard actions against Confederate forces and is alleged to have murdered at least two prominent secessionists. He was captured on January 18 by Confederate forces and hanged five days later.
More tension was brewing in New York City when its male population was called to war. On July 13, 1863, three days of massive anti-draft protests began. In the nation’s bloodiest riot in history, 50,000 Civil War draft protesters burned buildings, stores, and draft offices and actively attacked the police. Protestors clubbed, lynched, and shot large numbers of blacks, who they blamed for the government’s position. When troops returning from Gettysburg finally restored order, 1,200 were dead.
While the rest of the nation was busy fighting the Civil War, the deadliest campaign of vigilante justice in American history was erupting in the Rocky Mountains.
Fighting violent crime in a remote corner beyond the reach of the government were the Montana Vigilantes. Sweeping through the gold-mining towns of southwest Montana, the armed horseman hanged 21 troublemakers in the first two months of 1864 alone. One of these so-called troublemakers was elected Sheriff Henry Plummer, who was said to be the leader of a band of Road Agents called the Innocents.
After hanging Plummer and his two main deputies on January 10, 1864, the Vigilantes hung more bandits in such places as Hellgate (Missoula), Cottonwood (Deer Lodge), Fort Owen, and Virginia City.
Though these Montana Vigilantes are still revered in Montana as founding fathers, historians have provided evidence that the whole thing regarding Sheriff Plummer and his Road Agents may very well have been a fraud.
The evidence suggests that many of the early stories, on which the outlaw tale is based, were written by the editor of the Virginia City Newspaper, who was a member of the vigilantes, and the story was fabricated to cover up the real lawlessness in the Montana Territory – the vigilantes themselves. Furthermore, the robberies taking place in Montana did not cease after the twenty-one men were hanged in January and February of 1864. In fact, after the “Plummer Gang” hangings, the robberies showed more evidence of organized criminal activity, and the number of thefts increased.
Random lynchings continued in Montana Territory throughout the 1860s even though territorial courts were in place. Over a six-year period, they lynched more than fifty men without trials until a backlash against extralegal justice finally took hold around 1870. However, by late that same decade, Montana was again stirring with new settlement as railroad construction pushed westward, and the vigilantes once again became active by making threats for “undesirables” to leave the territory. Reliance on mob rule in Montana became so ingrained that in 1883, a Helena newspaper editor advocated a return to “decent, orderly lynching” as a legitimate tool of social control.
Meanwhile, back on the Civil War battlegrounds, soldiers were being hanged by the dozens for crimes such as guerrilla activity, espionage, treason, but most often for desertion. One such major spectacle was between February 5th and February 22nd, 1864, when 22 deserters were executed by hanging at Kinston, North Carolina.
Legal hangings were performed regularly, the most public of which was the execution of the conspirators who were found guilty of killing Abraham Lincoln in 1865, just days after the close of the long and bloody Civil War. Mortally wounded by John Wilkes Booth’s bullet, Booth escaped but was shot down 12 days later in his hiding place.
Execution of Mary Surratt, Lewis Powell, David Herold, and George Atzerodt on July 7, 1865, at Fort McNair in Washington City. Photo by Alexander Gardner.
Mourning the loss of Lincoln, the government began a full-scale investigation, identifying eight members of a conspiracy team, including one woman by the name of Mary Surratt. Four of these conspirators were hanged before hundreds of spectators on July 7, 1865, in the courtyard of the Old Arsenal Penitentiary in Washington, D.C. Mary Surratt was the first woman ever legally executed by the federal government of the United States.
These public spectacles of death for legal hangings and lynchings often took on a festival-type atmosphere, as families attended with picnic baskets in hand, vendors sold souvenirs, and photographers took multiple photographs of the event, many of which wound up on penny postcards. It wasn’t to be until many decades later that public executions in the U.S. ceased in 1936.
From the ashes of the ruthless and costly Civil War, a violent stage was set for outlaws, vigilante justice, and mob violence that killed thousands of men, women, and children, most of them black. Upon founding the Ku Klux Klan in Tennessee, the lynching of African Americans grew to epidemic proportions. “Lynching” took on a whole new meaning as illegal hangings were soon attributed primarily to racist activities. From this time onward, mob violence was increasingly reflected in America’s contempt for racial, ethnic, and cultural groups – especially those of the black population.
But, it didn’t stop there. These racial prejudices also extended to Native Americans, Mexicans, Asian immigrants, and European newcomers.
Youth was no bar to execution by these vicious people, as on February 7, 1868, a 13-year-old African-American girl named Susan was hanged in Henry County, Kentucky, for murder. Susan, who was a babysitter, was accused of killing one of her charges.
The newspapers helped to make these hanging more public by reporting items such as this one that appeared: “she writhed and twisted and jerked many times.” After her death, many purportedly “solid citizens” asked for a piece of her hanging rope for a souvenir.
Lynchings during this time also targeted white men and women who were known to interfere with “Judge Lynch justice” against the blacks, those who had aided runaways, Union activists, and abolitionists.
Lynching in the Wild West also increased after the Civil War as it experienced its most brazen period of extralegal hangings. Though most often focused as either a deterrent to crime or a resolution in political disputes, waves of indiscriminate terror waged against Mexicans, Chinese immigrants, and Native Americans. In many western territories, no legal authority existed, so the vigilantes took it upon themselves to dispense justice. In others, these Old West pioneers were simply too enraged or impatient to await the legal decisions.
However, not all of the hangings in the Wild West were performed by vigilantes. One such instance was the hanging of John Millan in Virginia City, Nevada, on April 24, 1868. Millan was accused of killing a popular prostitute named Julia Bulette. Bulette, who began her one-woman operation in 1861, was so popular among the locals that she rode in the Fourth of July Parade and was made an honorary member of the local fire department. On January 20, 1867, Julia was found strangled in her home with her jewels and furs missing. On the day of her funeral, every mine in the area shut down, and 16 carriages filled with the town’s leading men followed the hearse to the cemetery. Several weeks later, John Millan was arrested for her murder. While awaiting trial, Virginia City wives treated him like a hero, bringing him cakes and wine in jail. Found guilty, he was sentenced to hang. On April 24, 1868, crowds gathered from all over the state to watch Millan die on the gallows constructed one mile outside town.
Back in the turbulent South, Wyatt Outlaw, a town commissioner in Graham, North Carolina, was lynched by the Ku Klux Klan on February 26, 1870. Outlaw, the president of the Alamance County Union League of America (an anti-Ku Klux Klan group), helped establish the Republican party in North Carolina and advocated establishing a school for African Americans. The Klan hanged him from an oak tree near the Alamance County Courthouse. Dozens of Klansmen were arrested for the murders of Outlaw and other African Americans in Alamance and Caswell Counties. Many of the arrested men confessed, but, despite protests by Governor William W. Holden, a federal judge in Salisbury ordered them released.
Elizabethtown, New Mexico Street Scene.
Later the same year, on the raw frontier of the West, gunfighter Clay Allison sat brooding about a locally convicted murder by the name of Charles Kennedy. While drinking in an Elizabethtown, New Mexico saloon on October 7th, he soon stirred up sentiment against Kennedy. He led a lynch mob across the street to the jail in no time, where they dragged Kennedy screaming from his cell. He was then taken to a local slaughterhouse where he was hanged, and his body was mutilated with huge knives used for butchering cattle. Allison cut the body down, and using an ax, chopped Kennedy’s head off and jammed it onto a pole. Allison then rode his horse all the way to Cimarron, New Mexico, where he put the head on display on the bar of Henry Lambert’s saloon. Later, someone stuck it on the corral fence at the St. James Hotel, where it remained for months and eventually mummified.
During this time, former slaves and free black men continued to be executed, such as 10 black men on October 19, 1870, in Clinton, South Carolina. In November, four black men were lynched in Coosa County, Alabama four were lynched in Noxubee County, Mississippi, and a federal revenue agent was hanged in White County, Georgia.
Lynchings continued in earnest in the South and the Old West over the next couple of years. In 1873, Klansman laid siege to the small town of Colfax, Louisiana, which black veterans of the Union army defended. On Easter Sunday, April 13, armed with a small cannon, the whites overpowered the defenders and slaughtered 50 blacks and two whites after they had surrendered under a white flag.
While hangings were taking place all over the South and the Wild West, one of the most famous was that of Jack “Broken Nose” McCall on March 1, 1877. Having gone to Deadwood, South Dakota in 1876, using the name of Bill Sutherland, he sat in on a poker game with Wild Bill Hickok. Losing all his money, Wild Bill generously gave him back enough to buy breakfast but advised him not to play again until he could cover his losses. Humiliated, McCall shot Hickok in the back of the head the very next day. He left Deadwood after killing Hickok, but was later arrested in Laramie, Wyoming, brought back to Yankton, and put on trial for Hickok’s death. Found guilty, he was sentenced to hang. On March 1, 1877, he stood trembling on the scaffold, begging for someone to save him. He was buried in Yankton in an unmarked grave with the rope still around his neck.
James Miller, a 23-year-old man, described as a “mulatto,” was the first man to be sent to the gallows after Colorado achieved statehood in 1876. Miller, a former soldier, was convicted of shooting and killing a man who had earlier forced him, at gunpoint, to leave a dance hall reserved for whites. When Miller was hanged in West Las Animas on February 2, 1877, the trap door would not open at first.
When it eventually fell, the trap door detached and came to rest on the ground. Miller dropped, but the hanging rope was too long, and Miller’s feet came to rest on the trap door below. The trap door was then removed so that Miller could swing freely. He then strangled for 25 minutes before expiring. The local sheriff, reportedly distraught over the botched execution, resigned and left town.
Back in the East, in what has become known as “Pennsylvania’s Day With the Rope,” eleven “Molly Maguire” coal miners were hanged by the state for murder and conspiracy. Their real crime was attempting to organize the mine workers. On June 21, 1877, all of them were hanged for their “obstinacy.”