In a new report that sheds more light on an appalling and painful chapter in U.S. History, the Equal Justice Initiative released a report Tuesday that lists the names of nearly 4,000 Blacks lynched in the Jim Crow South between 1877 and 1950, according to the New York Times.
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Many were hanged, not for crimes such as murder or theft, but so-called infractions against the racial hierarchy of the South, including bumping up against a White woman or wearing an Army uniform, the report notes.
Bryan Stevenson, founder of the Montgomery, Ala., nonprofit legal assistance and research group, tells the Times that the report (pdf) findings were the result of five years of research and 160 visits to lynching sites in the nation’s South.
The study recorded lynchings that took place in 12 Southern states from 1877 to 1950 and includes the names of 3,959 victims of “racial terror lynchings,” the Times writes. The goal of the project, Stevenson tells the news outlet, is to force the nation to face the viciousness of its racial history as a narrative instead of as a finite period, he tells the newspaper:
“Lynching and the terror era shaped the geography, politics, economics and social characteristics of being black in America during the 20th century,” Stevenson tells the Times, “arguing that many participants in the great migration from the South should be thought of as refugees fleeing terrorism rather than people simply seeking work.”
In that time period, Georgia recorded the most lynchings, with 586, and Mississippi recording 576, the report says. The study is part of a longer project Stevenson began several years ago. One of its pieces involved the building of historical markers about the extensive slave markets in Montgomery, the Times writes.
Stevenson’s mission, however, was met with resistance from some city and state governments, in spite of scores of Civil War and civil rights movement memorials in the city, the report notes. But Stevenson was unshaken and moved forward with the plan and intends to construct more elsewhere, he tells the Times:
Around the country, there are only a few markers noting the sites of lynchings. In several of those places, like Newnan, Ga., attempts to erect markers were met with local resistance. But in most places, no one has tried to put up a marker.
Efforts to record the number of lynchings in the country date back to at least 1882, when The Chicago Tribune each new year began publishing a list of all executions and lynchings recorded in the previous year, the news outlet says:
The Tuskegee Institute began releasing a list in 1912, and in 1919, the N.A.A.C.P. published what its researchers said was a comprehensive list of lynchings in the previous three decades. In 1995, the sociologists Stewart Tolnay and E. M. Beck researched the existing lists, eliminated errors and duplicates, and compiled what many consider the most accurate inventory to that time.
The Initiative’s report records at least 700 names that were not included on previous lists, the Times notes:
“If you’re trying to make a point that the amount of racial violence is underestimated, well then, there’s no doubt about it,” Professor Beck said. “What people don’t realize here is just how many there were, and how close. Places they drive by every day.”
Most lynchings were carried out not as a result of actual crimes, but for failing to, say, observe the so-called racial hierarchy for bumping up against a White woman, Beck tells the Times:
“Many of these lynchings were not executing people for crimes but executing people for violating the racial hierarchy,” he said, meaning offenses such as bumping up against a white woman or wearing an Army uniform.
But, he continued, even when a major crime was alleged, the refusal to grant a black man a trial — despite the justice system’s near certain outcome — and the public extravagance of a lynching were clearly intended as a message to other African-Americans.
Read the entire report at EJI.
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