Lynching — the brutal executions carried out by vengeful mobs — was a part of the American experience from the 19th century through the 1960s, particularly in the South. As white supremacy was challenged in the Civil War, black American men were by and large the victims of this violence. But they were not alone. Hispanics, white supporters of civil rights, and black women and children were not safe of this wrath.
An atrocious chapter of our American history, it is perhaps too often neatly set aside as a shameful period that is locked in the past, a time from which we have made great strides of progress. But rather than an era with a beginning in the years after the Civil War and an end in the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s, it was merely a part of a long and enduring history of black oppression.
As you read the original newspaper reports of these lynchings, you will be enriching your understanding of this history and getting a stronger grasp on the narratives. By uncovering names of the victims of these killings, you will be able to learn about their lives and their unjust endings. The tone of the articles, the context of the printed page, the voices of African American and progressive publications bring a clearer picture of lynching culture and the personal suffering of its victims.
Above, you can see that timeline play out in statistics. These numbers were in fact generated by researchers who took their cues from newspapers. Between 1882 - 1968 newspapers were read and statistics documented by multiple directors at Tuskegee University. In 1968, these findings were compiled and published in a work called Amid the Gathering Multitude: The Story of Lynching in America. A Classified Listing.
While the dataset is now known to have some misreporting or underreporting, it remains a landmark report. In the explore page, you’ll find additional datasets that painstakingly document the missing stories.
The proportion of white and black lynching change dramatically. To understand this chart, a bit of context about the changing definitions of ‘white’ and ‘non-white’ is important. In an essay titled "Muerto Por Unos Desconocidos (Killed by Persons Unknown", William D. Carrigan and Clive Webb offer this insight:
Tuskegee had divided its data set into black victims and nonblack victims. The “white” category actually included Mexicans, Native Americans, Chinese, and a host of other ethnic minorities who were not considered fully “white” by the Anglo mobs that lynched them.
It's also important to know that much research continues to be done to understand the brutal history of lynching in America. For instance, Carrigan and Webb point out that the lynching numbers in the Southwest could be significantly higher.
Our research has turned up more than two hundred Mexican lynching victims during [this period].
Clearly, no one data set will come close to telling the entire story. Yet taken together with newspaper articles and further research by inquisitive readers, we can conntinue to build a better picture of our history.
So, why not start your search now? Click your state in the map below and browse selected articles from Chronicling America's Newspaper Directory.
Chronicling America newspaper records (1836- 1922) will populate below. Twenty, to be exact!