Lynching is often viewed as a narrow form of violence: either the spontaneous act of an angry mob against accused individuals, or a demonstration of white supremacy against an entire population considered subhuman. However, in this new treatise, historian Guy Lancaster exposes the multiple forms of violence hidden beneath the singular label of lynching.
Lancaster, who has written extensively on racial violence, details several lynchings of Blacks by white posses in post-Reconstruction Arkansas. Drawing from the fields of history, philosophy, cognitive science, sociology, and literary theory, and quoting chilling contemporary accounts, he argues that the act of lynching encompasses five distinct but overlapping types of violence. This new framework reveals lynching to be even more of an atrocity than previously understood: that mobs did not disregard the humanity of their victims but rather reveled in it; that they were not simply enacting personal vengeance but manifesting an elite project of subjugation. Lancaster thus clarifies and connects the motives and goals of seemingly isolated lynch mobs, embedding the practice in the ongoing enforcement of white supremacy. By interrogating the substance of lynching, American Atrocity shines new light on both past anti-Black violence and the historical underpinnings of our present moment.
The End of American Lynching questions how we think about the dynamics of lynching, what lynchings mean to the society in which they occur, how lynching is defined, and the circumstances that lead to lynching. Ashraf H. A. Rushdy looks at three lynchings over the course of the twentieth century—one in Coatesville, Pennsylvania, in 1911, one in Marion, Indiana, in 1930, and one in Jasper, Texas, in 1998—to see how Americans developed two distinct ways of thinking and talking about this act before and after the 1930s.
One way takes seriously the legal and moral concept of complicity as a way to understand the dynamics of a lynching; this way of thinking can give us new perceptions into the meaning of mobs and the lynching photographs in which we find them. Another way, which developed in the 1940s and continues to influence us today, uses a strategy of denial to claim that lynchings have ended. Rushdy examines how the denial of lynching emerged and developed, providing insight into how and why we talk about lynching the way we do at the dawn of the twenty-first century. In doing so, he forces us to confront our responsibilities as American citizens and as human beings.
What happened in Kirven, Texas, in May 1922, has been forgotten by the outside world. It was a coworker's whispered words, "Kirven is where they burned the [Negroes]," that set Monte Akers to work at discovering the true story behind a young white woman's brutal murder and the burning alive of three black men who were almost certainly innocent of it. This was followed by a month-long reign of terror as white men killed blacks while local authorities concealed the real identity of the white probable murderers and allowed them to go free.
Writing nonfiction with the skill of a novelist, Akers paints a vivid portrait of a community desolated by race hatred and its own refusal to face hard truths. He sets this tragedy within the story of a region prospering from an oil boom but plagued by lawlessness, and traces the lynching's repercussions down the decades to the present day. In the new epilogue, Akers adds details that have come to light as a result of the book's publication, including an eyewitness account of the burnings from an elderly man who claimed to have castrated two of the men before they were lynched.
On October 17, 1902, in Nacogdoches, Texas, a black man named James Buchanan was tried without representation, condemned, and executed for the murder of a white family—all in the course of three hours. Two white men played pivotal roles in these events: Bill Haltom, a leading local Democrat and the editor of the Nacogdoches Sentinel, who condemned lynching but defended lynch mobs, and A. J. Spradley, a Populist sheriff who, with the aid of hundreds of state militiamen, barely managed to keep the mob from burning Buchanan alive, only to escort him to the gallows following his abbreviated trial. Each man's story serves to illuminate a part of the path that led to the terrible parody of justice which lies at the heart of A Hanging in Nacogdoches.
The turn of the twentieth century was a time of dramatic change for the people of East Texas. Frightened by the Populist Party's attempts to unite poor blacks and whites in a struggle for economic justice, white Democrats defended their power base by exploiting racial tensions in a battle that ultimately resulted in the complete disenfranchisement of the black population of East Texas. In telling the story of a single lynching, Gary Borders dramatically illustrates the way politics and race combined to bring horrific violence to small southern towns like Nacogdoches.
Why did some offenses in the South end in mob lynchings while similar crimes led to legal executions? Why did still other cases have nonlethal outcomes? In this well-researched and timely book, Margaret Vandiver explores the complex relationship between these two forms of lethal punishment, challenging the assumption that executions consistently grew out of-and replaced-lynchings.
Vandiver begins by examining the incidence of these practices in three culturally and geographically distinct southern regions. In rural northwest Tennessee, lynchings outnumbered legal executions by eleven to one and many African Americans were lynched for racial caste offenses rather than for actual crimes. In contrast, in Shelby County, which included the growing city of Memphis, more men were legally executed than lynched. Marion County, Florida, demonstrated a firmly entrenched tradition of lynching for sexual assault that ended in the early 1930s with three legal death sentences in quick succession.
With a critical eye to issues of location, circumstance, history, and race, Vandiver considers the ways that legal and extralegal processes imitated, influenced, and differed from each other. A series of case studies demonstrates a parallel between mock trials that were held by lynch mobs and legal trials that were rushed through the courts and followed by quick executions.
Tying her research to contemporary debates over the death penalty, Vandiver argues that modern death sentences, like lynchings of the past, continue to be influenced by factors of race and place, and sentencing is comparably erratic.
In closely analyzing the political and spiritual uses of black theatre during the Progressive Era, Mitchell demonstrates that audiences were shown affective ties in black families, a subject often erased in mainstream images of African Americans. Examining lynching plays as archival texts that embody and reflect broad networks of sociocultural activism and exchange in the lives of black Americans, Mitchell finds that audiences were rehearsing and improvising new ways of enduring in the face of widespread racial terrorism. Images of the black soldier, lawyer, mother, and wife helped readers assure each other that they were upstanding individuals who deserved the right to participate in national culture and politics. These powerful community coping efforts helped African Americans band together and withstand the nation's rejection of them as viable citizens.
The Left of Black interview with author Koritha Mitchell begins at 14:00.
An interview with Koritha Mitchell at The Ohio Channel.
A groundbreaking study, Lynching in the New South is a classic portrait of the tradition of violence that poisoned American life.
An artist and writer, Gonzales-Day began this study by photographing lynching sites in order to document the absences and empty spaces that are emblematic of the forgotten history of lynching in the West. Drawing on newspaper articles, periodicals, court records, historical photographs, and souvenir postcards, he attempted to reconstruct the circumstances surrounding the lynchings that had occurred in the spaces he was photographing. The result is an unprecedented textual and visual record of a largely unacknowledged manifestation of racial violence in the United States. Including sixteen color illustrations, Lynching in the West juxtaposes Gonzales-Day’s evocative contemporary photographs of lynching sites with dozens of historical images.
Gonzales-Day examines California’s history of lynching in relation to the spectrum of extra-legal vigilantism common during the nineteenth century—from vigilante committees to lynch mobs—and in relation to race-based theories of criminality. He explores the role of visual culture as well, reflecting on lynching as spectacle and the development of lynching photography. Seeking to explain why the history of lynching in the West has been obscured until now, Gonzales-Day points to popular misconceptions of frontier justice as race-neutral and to the role of the anti-lynching movement in shaping the historical record of lynching in the United States.
Shortlisted for the Nayef Al-Rodhan Book Prize.A leading scholar explores what it means to dehumanize others—and how and why we do it.“I wouldn’t have accepted that they were human beings. You would see an infant who’s just learning to smile, and it smiles at you, but you still kill it.” So a Hutu man explained to an incredulous researcher, when asked to recall how he felt slaughtering Tutsis in Rwanda in 1994. Such statements are shocking, yet we recognize them; we hear their echoes in accounts of genocides, massacres, and pogroms throughout history. How do some people come to believe that their enemies are monsters, and therefore easy to kill?In Making Monsters David Livingstone Smith offers a poignant meditation on the philosophical and psychological roots of dehumanization. Drawing on harrowing accounts of lynchings, Smith establishes what dehumanization is and what it isn’t. When we dehumanize our enemy, we hold two incongruous beliefs at the same time: we believe our enemy is at once subhuman and fully human. To call someone a monster, then, is not merely a resort to metaphor—dehumanization really does happen in our minds. Turning to an abundance of historical examples, Smith explores the relationship between dehumanization and racism, the psychology of hierarchy, what it means to regard others as human beings, and why dehumanizing others transforms them into something so terrifying that they must be destroyed.Meticulous but highly readable, Making Monsters suggests that the process of dehumanization is deeply seated in our psychology. It is precisely because we are all human that we are vulnerable to the manipulations of those trading in the politics of demonization and violence.
As Hill explains, labor defense activists first drew on populist logic, opposing the masses to the state in their campaigns, while anti-lynching activists went in the opposite direction, castigating “the mob” and appealing to the law. Showing that this difference stems from the different positions of whites and Blacks in the American legal system, Hill’s comparison of anti-lynching organizing and radical labor defenses reveals the conflicts and intersections between antiracist struggle and socialism in the United States.
A historical account of ideology in the Global South as the postwar laboratory of socialism, its legacy following the Cold War, and the continuing influence of socialist ideas worldwide.In the first decades after World War II, many newly independent Asian and African countries and established Latin American states pursued a socialist development model. Jeremy Friedman traces the socialist experiment over forty years through the experience of five countries: Indonesia, Chile, Tanzania, Angola, and Iran.These states sought paths to socialism without formal adherence to the Soviet bloc or the programs that Soviets, East Germans, Cubans, Chinese, and other outsiders tried to promote. Instead, they attempted to forge new models of socialist development through their own trial and error, together with the help of existing socialist countries, demonstrating the flexibility and adaptability of socialism. All five countries would become Cold War battlegrounds and regional models, as new policies in one shaped evolving conceptions of development in another. Lessons from the collapse of democracy in Indonesia were later applied in Chile, just as the challenge of political Islam in Indonesia informed the policies of the left in Iran. Efforts to build agrarian economies in West Africa influenced Tanzania’s approach to socialism, which in turn influenced the trajectory of the Angolan model.Ripe for Revolution shows socialism as more adaptable and pragmatic than often supposed. When we view it through the prism of a Stalinist orthodoxy, we miss its real effects and legacies, both good and bad. To understand how socialism succeeds and fails, and to grasp its evolution and potential horizons, we must do more than read manifestos. We must attend to history.
Between 1880 and 1930, close to 200 women were murdered by lynch mobs in the American South. Many more were tarred and feathered, burned, whipped, or raped. In this brutal world of white supremacist politics and patriarchy, a world violently divided by race, gender, and class, black and white women defended themselves and challenged the male power brokers. Crystal Feimster breaks new ground in her story of the racial politics of the postbellum South by focusing on the volatile issue of sexual violence.Pairing the lives of two Southern women—Ida B. Wells, who fearlessly branded lynching a white tool of political terror against southern blacks, and Rebecca Latimer Felton, who urged white men to prove their manhood by lynching black men accused of raping white women—Feimster makes visible the ways in which black and white women sought protection and political power in the New South. While Wells was black and Felton was white, both were journalists, temperance women, suffragists, and anti-rape activists. By placing their concerns at the center of southern politics, Feimster illuminates a critical and novel aspect of southern racial and sexual dynamics. Despite being on opposite sides of the lynching question, both Wells and Felton sought protection from sexual violence and political empowerment for women.Southern Horrors provides a startling view into the Jim Crow South where the precarious and subordinate position of women linked black and white anti-rape activists together in fragile political alliances. It is a story that reveals how the complex drama of political power, race, and sex played out in the lives of Southern women.
During the period of Goldstein’s fieldwork in Villa Pagador in the mid-1990s, residents attempted to lynch several thieves and attacked the police who tried to intervene. Since that time, there have been hundreds of lynchings in the poor barrios surrounding Cochabamba. Goldstein presents the lynchings of thieves as a form of horrific performance, with elements of critique and political action that echo those of local festivals. He explores the consequences and implications of extralegal violence for human rights and the rule of law in the contemporary Andes. In rich detail, he provides an in-depth look at the development of Villa Pagador and of the larger metropolitan area of Cochabamba, illuminating a contemporary Andean city from both microethnographic and macrohistorical perspectives. Focusing on indigenous peoples’ experiences of urban life and their attempts to manage their sociopolitical status within the broader context of neoliberal capitalism and political decentralization, The Spectacular City highlights the deep connections between performance, law, violence, and the state.
Looking at the narrative accounts of mob violence produced by vigilantes and their advocates as “official” histories, Lisa Arellano shows how these nonfiction narratives conformed to a common formula whose purpose was to legitimate frontier justice and lynching.
In Vigilantes and Lynch Mobs, Arellano closely examines such narratives as well as the work of Western historian and archivist Hubert Howe Bancroft, who was sympathetic to them, and that of Ida B. Wells, who wrote in fierce opposition to lynching. Tracing the creation, maintenance, and circulation of dominant, alternative, and oppositional vigilante stories from the nineteenth-century frontier through the Jim Crow South, she casts new light on the role of narrative in creating a knowable past.
Demonstrating how these histories ennobled the actions of mobs and rendered their leaders and members as heroes, Arellano presents a persuasive account of lynching’s power to create the conditions favorable to its own existence.
Witnessing Lynching: American Writers Respond is the first anthology to gather poetry, essays, drama, and fiction from the height of the lynching era (1889–1935). During this time, the torture of a black person drew thousands of local onlookers and was replayed throughout the nation in lurid newspaper reports. The selections gathered here represent the courageous efforts of American writers to witness the trauma of lynching and to expose the truth about this uniquely American atrocity. Included are well-known authors and activists such as Frederick Douglass, W.E.B. Du Bois, Langston Hughes, Ida B. Wells, and Theodore Dreiser, as well as many others. These writers respond to lynching in many different ways, using literature to protest and educate, to create a space of mourning in which to commemorate and rehumanize the dead, and as a cathartic release for personal and collective trauma. Their words provide today’s reader with a chance to witness lynching and better understand the current state of race relations in America.
An introduction by Anne P. Rice offers a broad historical and thematic framework to ground the selections.
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