Few crimes raise the ire in African-Americans more than the outlawed practice of lynching. Used primarily as a tool of justice and to incite fear in Blacks and Whites, lynching in America claimed thousands of lives but in a disproportionate fashion. On this date — on two separate occasions — lynching reports were released that displayed the far reach and impact of the heinous act.
Although sources clash, several reports point to the dates of 1888 and 1906 where an announcement of lynching were released. The specific dates of the lynchings could not be determined, but public records say that in 1888, 69 Blacks were lynched. In 1906, 62 blacks were reported lynched.
According to studies conducted by the Tuskegee Institute, between 1800 and 1951, 3,437 African-Americans were lynched. Comparatively, 1,293 Whites were lynched. Much of these acts took place in the South across the “Cotton Belt” states of Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi and Texas.
For much of the 19th and 20th centuries, White mobs gripped Blacks in fear who thought they would be the next victim. And while lynching precedes slavery, it took hold during those times as a means of control amongst slave masters looking to preside over their laborers. Lynching was also a common response to crimes, proven or otherwise, and often used to quell the voices of anyone who dared raise up against the power structure.
Anti-lynching activist Ida B. Wells was a vocal opponent of the practice, and she fought steadfastly to eliminate the act. Yet despite several bills introduced in Congress and the efforts of White and Black elected officials, lynchings even occurred into the 1960s.
The brutal 1955 murder of Emmett Till, considered by many a mob-style lynching, sparked and galvanized the Civil Rights Movement and inspired a passionate collective of individuals who spoke out in unison.
On June 13, 2005, a resolution was introduced and served as a national apology from several elected officials in response to Congress’ failure to pass one of the 200 anti-lynching bills that were introduced during lynching’s high points. Between the years of 1890 and 1952, seven sitting presidents urged Congress to pass a law but found resistance from the Southern Democrats who ruled during the time.
In modern times, the 1998 death of James Byrd in Texas was a crime that shocked the nation to the core. Dragged to his death while being tied to the back of a pick-up truck, Byrd’s death once again reignited racial tensions in the South and raised a cautious awareness of lynching.
Lynching and its pervasive imagery burns itself into one’s memory, but a spirited resistance among African-Americans and support from Whites who decried the injustice united many people across various backgrounds. While lynching is one of the ugliest reminders of the failure of human decency among those who are different, it remain in front of the minds of many who wish to remember that even the threat of death can quiet a movement.