An overview of the history of Lynching
in the United States of America

by Maxime Coles MD

The United States has failed to tell the truth about it painful History, on how Slavery has hurt generations of blacks or how Lynching was used as a vicious tool to re-establish control of white supremacy in imposing fear among blacks and minorities. So much has been written about the Great Migration but the truth, about Lynching in a country build on hatred and discrimination, is now more appreciated. We will try to cover more than a century of passionate crimes directed mainly toward Blacks, Mexicans, Native Indians, Whites and minorities like Chinese and East Indians.

For those 4,400 lynching victims, it means a little Justice to the one who lost their lives in the South and the Midwest at the news of a new Monument dedicated to their memories.

Indeed, a monument to the Lynching victims will open to the public on April 26, 2018, in Montgomery, Alabama. The National Memorial for Peace and Justice will become the nation’s first memorial dedicated to the legacy of enslaved black people, people terrorized by lynching, African Americans humiliated by racial segregation.

The memorial sits fiercely on a grassy hilltop in the city like an invitation to enter each of the 805 rectangular steel slabs (markers), a symbol of each county where a Lynching has occurred. Other slabs are erected outside and around the monument to invite people to claim another site of the killing.

A Smithsonian American Ingenuity Awarded, Stevenson wishes for this Memorial to be a “correction” to begin a conversation rooted on Truth before we can frame a response that heals and repairs the damage of Racial Injustice”.

The Committee on Civil Rights of President Harry S Truman becomes later the Commission on Civil Rights has also failed to resolve mass lynching as well as many isolated cases around the country. Many of the victims will etch to History even if they remained unknown.

It is my privilege to explore this world of lynching in the United States of America.

The Great Migration was spurred by the “Jim Crow  Law”, the poverty in the post-civil war and by the Lynchings in the South. Lynching is the practice of murder by extrajudicial action. In the United States, Lynching rose in number after the civil war in late 1800 following the emancipation of the Slaves. Between 1914 and 1918 more than 500000 African Americans left the farms in the South for a better condition of life in the Northern cities.

This movement was part of the Great Migration from 1890 to the 1960 and eventually allowed more than 6 million of blacks to migrate. The flow declined after 1930 but was still recorded after the 1960′s. Northern jobs opened up by thousands. By moving, North did not mean that African American left Racism behind. Many whites resented their presence in the neighborhood so much that in 1915 a movie” the birth of a Nation” portrayed blacks as deranged and dangerous. The racial unrest led to riots.

Lynching has most frequently targeted African American in the Northern states during this Great Migration of blacks with the political goal of promoting White Supremacy and black powerlessness. Pictures of Lynching and photographs were published as postcards and sold in the USA or in a country like Germany to the adepts of the Nazism. People being lynched were occasionally burned alive with body parts amputated kept as souvenirs. Lynchings were frequent from 1890 to 1930 with a peak in 1892. In the 20th century, they were secretly conducted by small groups of people. In the old west, Native Americans, Latinos and Asian Americans were the primary targets.

Lynchings were also associated with inflation and economic distress, like with low cotton prices. Many white southerners resisted the granting of the US Constitutional rights to freedmen after the American civil war until 1877 when the federal troops were removed. Violence continued around elections until blacks were disfranchised by the states across the south from 1890 to 1908.

White Democrats enacted the segregation and brought the Jim Crow Laws to enforce the “second-class status” of the blacks during the late 19th and early 20th centuries, and encouraging more Lynchings in the South especially in the state of Florida and Georgia. 302 Lynchings were recorded by the Tuskegee Institute.

The exact number of recorded Lynching can’t be known but the Tuskegee Institute has recorded 3446 blacks and 1297 whites lynched between 1882 and 1968 with an annual pick in 1890. A study published in 2015 by the Equal Justice Initiative found nearly 3959 black men, women, and children lynched in the 12 southern states during 1877-1950. The state of Georgia led with 586.

African Americans Intellectuals and Journalists started protesting and lobbying against Lynching and government complicity. The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) produced anti-lynching plays and literary works, publicizing injustices, investigating incidents. They wanted to pass federal legislation. From 1882 to 1968 nearly 200 anti-lynching bills were Introduced in Congress but only 3 passed the House. 7 presidents petitioned congress between 1890 and 1952 to pass a federal law but none succeeded.

Charles Lynch, a Virginia Justice of the peace came with this punishment of loyalist and termed it the “Lynch Law”. They applied this law to members of the abolitionist movement and other people opposing slavery.

During the second war, southern home guard unit will lynch white southerner suspected to be a Unionist. A major motive was to maintain an effort to have white supremacy. The more black Population the higher the number of Lynching. The economic competition was also another factor, predominance of Democrats, competition among church groups, Low cotton price. White will lynch black for financial gain or to establish political or economic dominance.

An African American journalist, Ida B. Wells discovered in her investigations in 1890, that one-third of blacks who die by Lynching was accused of Rape or Attempted Rape, another third was accused with Murder or attempted Murder and the last third was accused of verbal or physical aggression, business competition, Independent mind. She was an early leader Of the civil rights movement.

About the Midwest, it is sometimes difficult to differentiate historical facts from the Mythology of the Old West because the law enforcement was provided mainly by the US Marshals. 

The Treaty of 1848, after the Mexican-American war, has announced the California Gold Rush, and around 25000 Mexicans were residents of California. The US territory expanded one third its size annexing Arizona, California, Colorado, Kansas, New Mexico, Nevada, Texas, Utah, and Wyoming. In 1850, California became the 31st state. The Mexicans were experienced miners and became successful in the search for gold, creating animosity among the white prospectors who used intimidation or committed violence. It is believed that between 1848 and 1860, white Americans were responsible for at least 163 Lynchings of Mexicans in California alone.

Committees of Vigilance were created in San Francisco and Los Angeles but were portrayed as a positive response to the government corruption in crimes committed against Mexican American or Chinese American. The Johnson County War in 1890 is well known as a dispute over land in Wyoming in which ranchers hire mercenaries to lynch smaller ranchers.

Many cartoons from 1865-1877, were published in journals talking about the lynching performed by the Ku Klux Klan in Alabama and Mississippi.

The first KKK group was founded in Tennessee in 1866 by Confederate veterans performing Lynchings against freedmen. White Democrats attacked black and white republicans with insurgents, murdering about 1300 voters across various southern states. Occasionally whites will whip their victims to remind them of their former Status as Slaves or will raid their home to confiscate their arms or prevent them from voting. This consisted in the “Black Code”, invalidated by the 14th and 15th amendments in 1868 and 1870.

President Ulysses Grant and Congress passed the Enforcement Acts of 1870 and the Civil Rights Act of 1871 as known as the KKK Act, intended to suppress the vigilante violence and authorize the government to prosecute crimes committed by this group as well as to allow the federal troops to intervene and control violence. The administration began holding grand Juries to prosecute Klan members. They voted the ” Martial Law”.

In the Mid 1870, Paramilitary groups worked to suppress black voting in uniting with the Democrats in Louisiana, the Carolinas, and Florida. They terrorized and assassinated blacks, creating groups like the knights of “White Camelia”, “White League” and “Red Shirts”.

In conclusion, numerous studies since the mid-20th century have found the following variables affecting the rate of Lynchings in the South: “Lynchings were more numerous where the African American population was relatively large, the agricultural economy was based predominantly on cotton, the white population was economically stressed, the Democratic Party was stronger, and multiple religious organizations competed for congregants.” 

We can’t pretend that Lynching did not happen because each marker suspended on this Memorial certainly evoke the “Horror” of being strung up or hanged on a tree. The United States of America should not be proud of this page of History.


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Maxime J-M Coles MD

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