The Legacy of Lynching documents incidents of racial violence including lynching, and explores the ongoing impact and legacy of these events today.
What is Lynching?
Lynching refers to the murder of a person by a group or mob acting outside of the law and legal structure. Between Reconstruction in the 1870s and the beginning of the Civil Rights Movement in the 1950s, thousands of African Americans fell victim to lynching in the South and the larger United States. Lynchings punished an individual for an alleged crime, of which he or she often was not guilty, and which frequently was not even a legal offense but rather a violation of racial etiquette. On a larger level, lynchings functioned as a deliberate means of racial, social, political, and economic control. By punishing African Americans for challenging white supremacy, or the perception of challenging white supremacy, lynchings worked to keep an entire population in a state of fear and thus submissive to the white power structure. Enhancing the impact of lynchings, these events often functioned as community affairs, with up to hundreds or thousands of white spectators, including women and children, witnessing these brutal deaths. Despite these hundreds of witnesses and often even photographic evidence, perpetrators virtually never faced legal charges or punishment. The community nature of lynchings underlines both the ever-present threat of violence and points to the tacit and even active endorsement of law enforcement in these and related violent incidents. Lynching functioned in conjunction with other forms of violence, including attacks on entire black communities, arson, intimidation, beatings, and sexual assault, all of which also generally went unpunished, to enforce and deepen racial oppression in the US.
How has lynching and racial violence shaped our world?
Racial violence such as lynching has shaped our nation and communities in ways that are still visible today, preventing and deterring black Americans from building wealth, attaining success, or speaking up to protest oppression, and punishing those who dared. Families and communities of lynching victims, even over a hundred years later, still retain the painful memories of their losses, demonstrating the ongoing impact of racial violence. Many families and communities, however, have used their painful memories and outrage as inspiration to fight ongoing racial oppression, both in the past and the present. During Jim Crow, African Americans fought against lynching and white supremacy both individually and collectively, by holding protests, forming organizations, and migrating to the North to escape the worst threat of violence. Despite their actions, however, racial violence and lynching would not end until the modern Civil Rights Movement overturned the discriminatory system of Jim Crow in the 1950s and 1960s.