January 19, 2014

OURstory: Lynching in America

Some of the most graphic photographs that I've ever seen in my life contained the images of Black men people being lynched. Collector James Allen uncovered an extraordinary visual legacy: photographs and postcards taken as souvenirs at lynchings throughout America. He published these photographs in his book Without Sanctuary. You can experience the images as a flash movie with narrative comments by James Allen, or as a gallery of photos. Please be aware before entering the site that much of the material is very graphic and very disturbing.

African Americans suffered grievously under lynch law. With the close of Reconstruction in the late 1870s, southern whites were determined to end northern and Black participation in the region's affairs, and northerners exhibited a growing indifference toward the civil rights of Black Americans. Taking its cue from this inter-sectional white harmony, the federal government abandoned its oversight of constitutional protections. Southern and border states responded with the Jim Crow laws of the 1890s, and white mobs flourished.

With Blacks barred from voting, public office, and jury service, officials felt no obligation to respect minority interests or safeguard minority lives. In addition to lynchings of individuals, dozens of race riots--with Blacks as victims--scarred the national landscape from Wilmington, North Carolina, in 1898 to Tulsa, Oklahoma, in 1921.

Between 1882 (when reliable statistics were first collected) and 1968 (when the classic forms of lynching had disappeared), 4,743 persons died of lynching, 3,446 of them Black men and women. Mississippi (539 Black victims, 42 white) led this grim parade of death, followed by Georgia (492, 39), Texas (352, 141), Louisiana (335, 56), and Alabama (299, 48). From 1882 to 1901, the annual number nationally usually exceeded 100; 1892 had a record 230 deaths (161 Black, 69 white).

Although lynchings declined somewhat in the twentieth century, there were still 97 in 1908 (89 Black, 8 white), 83 in the racially troubled postwar year of 1919 (76, 7, plus some 25 race riots), 30 in 1926 (23, 7), and 28 in 1933 (24, 4). Sadly, we still see signs that racial demons can reared their head in 2007.

Statistics do not tell the entire story. These were recorded lynchings; others were never reported beyond the community involved. Furthermore, mobs used especially sadistic tactics when Blacks were the prime targets. By the 1890s lynchers increasingly employed burning, torture, and dismemberment to prolong suffering and excite a "festive atmosphere" among the killers and onlookers. White families brought small children to watch, newspapers sometimes carried advance notices, railroad agents sold excursion tickets to announced lynching sites, and mobs cut off Black victims' fingers, toes, ears, or genitalia as souvenirs.

Nor was it necessarily the handiwork of a local rabble; not infrequently, the mob was encouraged or led by people prominent in the area's political and business circles. Lynching had become a ritual of interracial social control and recreation rather than simply a punishment for crime.

Recently lynching has come to have a contemporary informal use as a label for social vilification, particularly in the media, and particularly of African Americans. However, I recall that even the Don Imus situation resulted in headlines using the word 'lynching'.

I hope that we never use the terminology as loosely here in the Afrosphere.

NOTE:  This was originally posted on this blog in May 2007.
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41 comments:

tegdirb92 said...

great direction on the theme. Have a great Monday.

Gattina said...

Very interesting post ! I have read a lot about racism in the States. I was also quite shocked that in 1971 I still saw banks with the inscription "white only" although that law had been bannished. You could still feel this disdain against black people. Unfortunately some people haven't learned anything even today.

mousey said...

great grapics and a very informative post. thanks for sharing.

Shaz said...

Very thought provoking post, factual, heart wrenching but a good take on Graphic. Thank you for this x x x

Rethabile said...

Thank you for this. here's a link to share: Sotho

Villager said...

tegdirb92, Mousey, Rethabile - Thank you for taking time to comment this week's MM posting.

Gattina, Shaz - I keep hoping that we will overcome our racial (or skin color) animus in the United States. Time will tell. I'm surprised to learn of the 'whites only' signs that you (Gattina) saw in 1971. Remarkable.

peace, Villger

Jamie said...

When I was ten, my mother called me in to hear a song. Apparently it was announced so that people could avoid it if they wanted to. My mom said, "It is important you hear this". Once it was over, she said nothing more. Sometimes the deepest lessons are the quiet that follows them.

Strange Fruit

mark said...

Yo Villager good post, I find the topic of lynching fascinating. I actually think that lynching is the first thing we should try to reparations for as it was illegal, we were citizens the goverment was supposed to protect, the southern court and police authorities often participated in lynching as well as turning blacks over to the lynch mob to be lynch.

Here is the kicker in terms of reparations specifically for violation of our human rights during the lynching phenomonom, the federal goverment knew what was happening and who was participating in these lynchings and did nothing. That sounds like criminal negligent homicide to me.

Stephen Bess said...

Yes, I automatically thought of Strange Fruit as well. That is one part of American History that America wish that it could erase. Thanks for talking about this because very want to discuss the subject.

Claire said...

Wow a very powerful graphic post.
Your absolutely right in saying it is not a term to be used as a throw away comment.

Great MM.

Lori said...

Back in grad school, I showed that same picture to a friend and fellow classmate who'd come to the U.S. from Sweden. I never will forget the look of shock and horror on her face. It must have taken her breath, because for a moment, she couldn't even form words . . .

Natalie said...

Those are some of my favorite photographs. Obviously, because of the strong emotions they bring up. Great topic.

Desert Songbird said...

I knew that this topic would elicit some very provocative posts. Great job. We need to be reminded of the atrocities so that they are never repeated. Sadly, these things continue as we are flawed creatures. Tragic, really.

Francis L. Holland Blog said...

Great article, Villager!

In a few days, the people of Jena, Louisiana are going to Google "lynching" on the Internet and they're going to discover that Black people all over American, in the Afrosphere, are concerned about what they're going through. Maybe some of them will even join the Afrosphere.

There is a tremendous kindred spirit and commonality of concern in the Afrosphere, and this issue is a perfect example. We all live in the thinly veiled shadow of lynching and, should when we forget it, someone is sure to remind us of this fact, as has happened down in Jena, Louisiana.

Please read and comment on my article posted today, looking at the emotions, ideation and behavior of the lynchers from a psychiatric perspective. We have not made the progress that we should against Extreme Color-Arousal Disorder (ECA) because we have yet to acknowledge that only a person with a mental illness could engage in the extreme emotion, ideation and behavior that is depicted in the lynching photographs.

As with any other mental illness, like alcoholism, anorexia, bulimia, and drug addiction, until the severity of the symptoms is faced squarely and the person is diagnosed and treated, there often is little progress, and instead there is a progressive worsening of the disease, resulting in progressively more extreme behavior.

Good looking out!

Danielle said...

You know I took you up on your movie suggestion of Deacons for Defense and watched it last night. The first sequence as you know holds the graphic image of a lynching. We need more graphic images of injustice so that we are moved to change being that we have become so desensitized.

I have a documentary about Hip Hop and graphic language, violence and misogyny up on my Manic Monday post.

Be well, sweets.

Villager said...

Jamie - I never heard Billie Holliday sing that STRANGE FRUIT song before. Thank you very much for sharing the link to the YouTube video of it!

Mark - Lynching was a vile public policy. My thoughts on reparations is an entirely different matter ... but, I bet many of the families and government officials that were engaged in the lynching process back in the day will rue the day when they are called on by their God to answer for their time on this earth. If we can get 'em first for some reparations dollars ... so be it!

peace, Villager

Villager said...

Stephen & Clare - Thanx for your kind words and comments. I hope you find reason to visit the Electronic Village often in the future.

Lori - If you friend was shocked by the single photo, imagine if she saw the flash movie or the photo gallery that were linked to in the MM-post?!

Natalie & Desert Songbird - Asante sana for your visit and your comments!

Villager said...

Francis - I will follow-up on your post re: lynching later this evening. I agree that there are many kindred spirits in the AfroSpear Nation. I'm grateful to be part of the process.

peace, Villager

Villager said...

Danielle - I hope you enjoyed the entertainment and quasi-historical aspect of the Deacons film. On another subject, I see you have a new avatar. What caused you to make the change?

peace, Villager

the108 said...

Excellent post! So many people want to turn their heads from this sort of thing, but without seeing it, one will never feel compelled to campaign for change. Thank you for the reminder... however truly disgusting these practices are, it is necessary that we realize them and never forget.

On another note... I'm going to work on a header for you! I'd like to read through some of the blog posts and get a good feel. I'd like to be able to mix the beauty and the powerful history together. Let me know if you have anything specific you want added!

Crazy Working Mom said...

Very interesting information. I think you did a great job expressing the graphic nature of this topic! Great job. Thanks for dropping by my MM.

Villager said...

The 108 - I imagine that I'll need to read more of your blog to understand the origin of your moniker, The 108. Thanks for the kind words on the MM meme!

Crazy - thank you!

Stine said...

A post for reflection - thank you. There are parallels in history, and even today.
Thanks for the visit.

Box 1715 said...

Hi Villager;
Very interesting post. Like one of your other visitors I recently just saw the Deacons movie as well, so the image of the young boy walking into the barn and being confronted with the body hanging from the rafters is still fresh in my mind. By the way, thanks for the recommendation there. My 17 yr old watched it as well and he had questions, so I know it was having some impact there, too!

Thanks again;
Anna

Gpawilli said...

Thank you for stopping by 2288beckleyrd and leaving you comment. I have watched the tragic video.

Sad to see the echos from days gone by in places like Jena, LA.

Chris
www.2288beckleyrd.com

Villager said...

Chris - Not just Jena. We're seeing this strange fruit reappearing at the University of Maryland, Alexandria LA and High Point NC.

It is sad...

Anyhow, thank you for visiting our Electronic Village. I hope you come back often.

peace, Villager

Sarge Charlie said...

This is a great instant replay Mr
Village, very graphic for sure. I hope we have got past those days.

Villager said...

Sarge - This MM post garnered the most reaction in the weeks and months since it was first posted. I'm glad to add it to the MM Carnival today.

I do beleive that physical lynchings are a thing of the past. However, we keep talking about it in today's headlines.

peace, Villager

Sanni said...

How could I miss your excellent entry on the "original" Manic Monday? I´m glad you´ve selected it for the carnival! Thank you!

Villager said...

Sanni - Happy Manic Monday! It is actually quite a remarkable idea by Morgen to do this carnival. If you have a chance ... please sign the MM widget for today if you have time.

the teach said...

I don't know how I missed this Manic onday post, Villager, but I'm real glad to read it now. :)

Villager said...

Teach - Thanks to Morgen for having this carnival idea. I hope to go thru all the carnival participants posts later today.

Gattina said...

I remember your post and it still makes me angry !

Villager said...

Gattina - Yes, I recall your village voice last time talking about "white only" inscriptions on bank buildings. We live in a strange, but wonderful world.

Shelia said...

These historical truths are hard to look at and even more difficult to comprehend. But they are the truth and represent a huge ugly portion of the history of we of African descent in this country. We must never forget those who suffered. We live better lives today for the their sacrifices.

Villager said...

Shelia - Yes, it was a terrible part of our history. That is why it was so disheartening to have the rash of noose incidents last year ... and to listen to a golf broadcaster call for the lynching of Tiger Woods.

Anyhow, I'm grateful for your comments ... and glad that you are now a regular participant in both MM and WW memes!

Janna said...

Sorry I got here so late!
I just finished looking at each and every one of the photos. All 81 of them!
I agree, it is an awful part of our history.
Especially disturbing were the ones where the victim was skinned, or castrated, or burned. One even had his ears cut off.
Hatred is an ugly thing, isn't it??

Villager said...

Janna - One thing that human history tells us ... we can be very cruel to one another. Holocaust, lynchings, genocide and so forth...

Connecticut Man1 said...

Being somewhat familiar with your Blog and community participants, I will take your comment at my Blog as high praise, villager. Thank you kindly.

Villager said...

Ct-Man - Thank you very much for the compliment. Your post was well-documented and powerful...

Reggie said...

It's certainly an American story and American history.....whether we choose to accept it or not.