Lynchings Were Even More Common in the South Than Previously Thought

A group of criminal justice reformers find 700 more lynchings in the segregated South than previously recorded

Klansman with Noose
A member of the Ku Klux Klan holds a noose during attempts to suppress black voters in Miami, Fla., in 1939. Bettmann/Corbis

Between 1877 and 1950, lynching was all too common in the segregated South. But even previous accounts of thousands of lynchings did not document the full extent of this practice. Now,  in a new report, a group of criminal justice reformers, led by Bryan Stevenson, has enumerated hundreds more lynchings than previous work had counted, in states including Alabama, Kentucky, North Carolina and Virginia. 

The new report, by the Equal Justice Initiative, counts 700 cases of lynchings that were not previously reported, bringing the death toll to nearly 4,000.

Lynching was a linchpin of Jim Crow America, and victims were killed for "minor transgressions against segregationist mores—or simply for demanding basic human rights or refusing to submit to unfair treatment," as Lauren Gambino write for the Guardian. The Equal Justice Initiative scoured existing data and turned to archives, historical newspapers, court records and interviews with victims and their descendants. They documented, ultimately, 3,959 victims of lynchings in the American South between 1877 and 1950.

EJI's researchers were able to identify some areas with much higher lynching rates than their counterparts. While Florida, Mississippi, Arkansas and Louisiana had the highest lynching rates, Georgia and Mississippi had the highest number of lynchings.

Though many of the communities where lynchings took place commemorate events like the Civil War, the Equal Justice Initiative report notes that there are “very few monuments or memorials that address the history and legacy of lynching in particular or the struggle for racial equality more generally.” The group hopes to use the data uncovered in its report to help communities come to terms with their violent past through monuments and continuing education.

The attempt to more accurately document lynching’s grisly legacy is part of a wider movement to reconsider the history of racial violence and civil rights in the United States. In order to move forward, EJI director Bryan Stevenson told Gambino, it’s vital to look back:

We want to change the visual landscape of this country so that when people move through these communities and live in these communities, that they’re mindful of this history….We really want to see truth and reconciliation emerge, so that we can turn the page on race relations.

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