The term “Lynch’s Law” and subsequently “lynch law” and “lynching” originated during the American Revolution when Charles Lynch, a Virginia justice of the peace, ordered extralegal punishment for Loyalist. Although there are some who believe the term is to pay homage to the mythical figure “Willie Lynch”, which is not true. In the South before the Civil War, members of the abolitionist movement and other people opposing slavery were also targets of lynch mob violence. This was in many ways an effective tool of white supremacy to induce fear and to control blacks by white people.
Lynching was the practice of killing, an act of terror usually by a hanging resulting from extrajudicial mob action by white people against blacks. Lynchings in the United States occurred after the American Civil War in the late 1800s, the emancipation of slaves, and chiefly from the late 1800s through the 1960s. Lynchings took place most frequently against African American men and women in the South. But I remind you that anywhere south of Canada is south in America!
Lynchings occurred most frequently from 1890 to the 1920s, a time of political suppression of blacks by whites, with a peak in 1892. Lynchings were also very common in the Old West, where the victims were African American men. Most of the South was dominated politically by conservative Democrats. Lynching was part of the informal system of enforcement of white supremacy in the late 19th century following Reconstruction.
The number of lynchings in the South is also strongly associated with economic strains, although the causal nature of this link is unclear: low cotton prices, inflation, and economic stress are associated with higher frequencies of lynching. The granting of U.S. Constitutional rights to freedmen after the American Civil War during the Reconstruction Era (1865–1877) aroused anxieties among white Southerners, who were unwilling to concede such social status to African Americans, especially in areas of black concentration.
The whites blamed the freedmen for their own wartime hardship, economic losses, and loss of social and political privilege. During Reconstruction, freedmen and whites active in the pursuit of civil rights were sometimes lynched. Also, blacks were intimidated and attacked physically to prevent them from voting, with violence increasing around elections from 1868 into the late 1870s to suppress the black, Republican vote.
White Democrats regained control of state legislatures in 1876 and a national compromise on the presidential election resulted in the removal of federal troops and official end of Reconstruction in 1877. In later decades, there continued to be violence around elections to suppress black voting, particularly with the rise of the Populist Party and some victories by Populist-Republican Fusion candidates in the 1890s.
From 1885 to 1908, southern states passed new constitutions and electoral rules to disenfranchise most blacks, ending election violence by utterly excluding them from politics. The dominant whites enacted a series of segregation and Jim Crow laws to enforce blacks’ second-class status. During this period of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, Lynchings reached a peak, reflecting the social repression and hard economic times.
Florida led the nation in lynchings per capita from 1900-1930. Georgia led the nation in lynchings from 1900-1931 with 302 incidents, according to The Tuskegee Institute. Lynchings peaked in many areas when it was time for landowners to settle accounts with sharecroppers. The Tuskegee Institute recorded 3,446 blacks and 1,297 whites being lynched between 1882 and 1968, with the annual peak occurring in the 1890s, at a time of economic stress in the South and political suppression of blacks. A five-year study published in 2015 by the Equal Justice Initiative found that nearly 3,959 black men, women, and children were lynched in the twelve Southern states between 1877 and 1950.
African Americans mounted resistance to lynchings in numerous ways. Intellectuals and journalists encouraged public education, actively protesting and lobbying against lynch mob violence and government complicity in that violence. The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), as well as numerous other organizations, organized support from white and black Americans alike and conducted a national campaign to get a federal anti-lynching law passed.
African-American women’s clubs raised funds to support the work of public campaigns, including anti-lynching plays. Their petition drives, letter campaigns, meetings and demonstrations helped to highlight the issues and combat lynching. In the Great Migration, particularly from 1910 to 1940, 1.5 million African Americans left the South, primarily for destinations in northern and mid-western cities, both to gain better jobs and education and to escape the high rate of violence. From 1910 to 1930 particularly, more blacks migrated from counties with high numbers of lynchings.
From 1882 to 1968, “nearly 200 anti-lynching bills were introduced in Congress, and three passed the House. Seven presidents between 1890 and 1952 petitioned Congress to pass a federal law.” In 1920 the Republican Party promised at its national convention to support passage of such a law. In 1921 Leonidas C. Dyer from St. Louis sponsored an anti-lynching bill; it was passed in January 1922 in the United States House of Representatives, but a Senate filibuster by the Southern white Democratic block defeated it in December 1922. With the NAACP, Representative Dyer spoke across the country in support of his bill in 1923 and tried to gain passage that year and the next, but was defeated by the Solid South Democratic block.
Decades later, during the 1960s Civil Rights Movement, violence erupted again, with attacks and murders of black activists throughout the South, and bombings in Birmingham, Alabama of homes of aspirational African Americans. In 1964 three Mississippi civil rights workers were lynched, abducted, shot and killed by KKK members including Neshoba County law enforcement. These galvanized national public support for federal civil rights and Congress passed the Civil Rights Act of 1964 ending segregation, and the Voting Rights Act of 1965 to enforce constitutional rights to vote.
Lynching has evolved today to where the slave catchers (police) just shoot blacks dead! I would be remissed if I did not include lynching done for mere entertainment by white! This was terror by any form of sane thinking upon blacks and in many cases sanctioned by the American governments! And that is my thought provoking perspective…