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A History of American Lynching

Lynching History

Reggie Jackson

on 6 March 2014

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Transcript of A History of American Lynching

Depending how one defines lynching determines the number of lynchings. The three lynching databases give differing numbers for the numbers of lynchings that took place. They also cover different time frames. The available information on lynchings show that most recorded lynchings took place between the late 1800’s thru the 1960’s. Tuskegee’s figures are generally accepted as most accurate. They recorded 4,742 lynchings from 1882-1968 including 3,445 Blacks and 1,297 Whites. However, many of the victims described as White were Mexican, Native American or Asian.
How many have been lynched?
In 1940 members of The Commission on Interracial Cooperation defined lynching by saying that:
there must be legal evidence that a person has been killed
that he met his death illegally at the hands of a group acting under the pretext of service to justice, race, or tradition
How is Lynching Defined?
America’s National Crime
A History of American Lynching
Michael Donald
Lynched 1981
in Mobile Alabama
The term lynching is generally associated with Judge Charles Lynch of Virginia who began to give extra punishment to perpetrators of crime in colonial times. It has more recently been attributed to the fictional “Willie Lynch” character. This frontier justice from Revolutionary War days gave way to primarily race based lynching in the period after Union troops left the South after Reconstruction.
Where does the term lynching come from?
This “increasing disregard for law” that Lincoln warned of in 1838 planted the seed for the wave of lynching that pervaded the American landscape after Reconstruction ended. One of the difficulties of understanding lynching is the constant debate about a formal definition. There are three primary sources of lynching statistics available. In 1883 The Chicago Tribune began to keep a database of lynchings. Ten years later Tuskegee Institute began tracking lynchings and finally the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) began to document lynchings as well in 1912. The NAACP defined lynching as:
an illegal killing for which there is evidence
carried out by three or more persons
who claimed that their act served justice or tradition
How is Lynching Defined?
I hope I am over wary; but if I am not, there is, even now, something of ill-omen amongst us. I mean the increasing disregard for law which pervades the country; the growing disposition to substitute the wild and furious passions, in lieu of the sober judgment of Courts; and the worse than savage mobs, for the executive ministers of justice... Accounts of outrages committed by mobs form the every-day news of the times…Whatever, then, their cause may be, it is common to the whole country.
Abraham Lincoln,
The Perpetuation of Our Political Institutions (1838)
“Outrages Committed by Mobs”
This was the last decade of statistics kept by Tuskegee. The lynching of 3 civil rights workers in Mississippi during Freedom Summer 1964 occurred two days after the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
1960-1968 Lynching Victims
Although only eight people were lynched in the 1950’s, the 1955 lynching of Emmett Till galvanized the Black community and launched the Civil Rights Movement.
1950-1959 Lynching Victims
Only two of the 33 lynching victims in the 1940’s were not black. Six Blacks were lynched the year after WWII ended.
1940-1949 Lynching Victims
There was a total of 128 lynchings during the 1930’s. 119 of the victims were Black (93%).
1930-1939 Lynching Victims
1920-1929 Lynching Victims
The 1920’s ushered in a period of more public condemnation of lynching. The NAACP led this effort. The Dyer Anti-Lynching Bill was introduced in Congress in 1918 but stalled in the Southern controlled Senate after passage in the House of Representatives.
1910-1919 Lynching Victims
The early part of this decade showed a decline in total lynchings. However there was a sharp increase during the years of WWI.
The 20th century saw a drastic decline in non-black lynching victims. In five years of this decade more than 80 Blacks were lynched.
1900-1909 Lynching Victims
The last decade of the 19th century saw a total of 1,540 lynchings. The 230 in 1892 was the highest number recorded for a single year.
1882-1889 Lynching Victims
There were 1,203 persons lynched in the 1880’s. In 1886 Blacks became the majority of lynch victims.
Aspect Ratio Test

(Should appear circular)
Widescreen Test Pattern (16:9)
1890-1899 Lynching Victims
Full transcript