Lynching

Author:Jeffrey Lehman, Shirelle Phelps

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Violent punishment or execution, without due process, for real or alleged crimes.

The concept of taking the law into one's own hands to punish a criminal almost certainly predates recorded history. Lynching (or "lynch law") is usually associated in the United States with punishment directed toward blacks, who made up a highly disproportionate number of its victims. (While the origins of the term "lynch" are somewhat unclear, many sources cite William Lynch, an eighteenth-century plantation owner in Virginia who helped to mete out vigilante justice.)

Lynching acquired its association with violence against blacks early in the nineteenth century. It was used as a punishment against slaves who tried to escape from their owners. Sometimes, whites who openly opposed SLAVERY were the victims of lynch mobs as well. Perhaps not surprisingly, lynching did not become a pervasive practice in the South until after the Civil War. The passage of the FOURTEENTH AMENDMENT to the Constitution granted blacks full rights of citizenship, including the right to DUE PROCESS OF LAW. Southern whites had been humiliated by their loss to the North, and many resented the thought that their former slaves were now on an equal footing with them (relatively

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speaking). Groups such as the KU KLUX KLAN and the Knights of the White Camelia attracted white Southerners who had been left destitute by the war. These groups promoted violence (sometimes indirectly) as a means of regaining white supremacy.

Part of the appeal of groups such as the Ku Klux Klan was their white supremacy focus. But these groups also played on the fears of Southern whites?that blacks would be able to compete with them for jobs, that blacks could run for political office, and even that blacks could rebel against whites. Lynchings were carried out because of these fears. Whites believed that lynchings would terrorize blacks into remaining subservient while allowing whites to regain their sense of status.

Lynchings became even more widespread beginning in the 1880s and would remain common in the South until the 1930s. Between 1880 and 1930, an estimated 2,400 black men, women, and children were killed by lynch mobs. (During the same time period, roughly 300 whites were lynched.) Most lynchings occurred in the Deep South (i.e., Mississippi, Georgia, Louisiana, Alabama, and South Carolina). Border Southern states?Florida, Tennessee, Arkansas...

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