History of Lynchings (aka Domestic Terrorism) in the South Documents Nearly 4,000 Names

Let me be clear. I’m all about Equal Justice Initiative (EJI) and Bryan Stevenson. You know, in case my other posts didn’t make that clear already.

Even though I finished Just Mercy some weeks ago, that book honestly has me reflecting on my definition of justice. Quite frankly, I’m beginning to think that there’s no such thing as justice, at least not the childhood version of justice I can’t shake no matter the life experience.

Now Mr. Stevenson decided to go on and be bold again.

EJI is starting an initiative to mark lynchings sites in the US. As a Black child in Texas when white supremacists dragged James Byrd to his death using a pick up truck, I’m all for it.

I’m. All. For. It.

The US needs its own version of Truth and Reconciliation. Like I’ve written about before, people were mailing lynching postcards right here in the US of A. The federal government had to pass a law saying don’t mail that shit anymore.

I mean…

If individuals thought it was OK to mail evidence of a murder, rent out special edition trains to go see lynchings, sell pieces of the lynched’s body and recorded sounds of the victim’s screams (all true, I didn’t make that up) you know life was bad for Blacks in the South. The words pervasive violence do not do this justice.

Terrorism fits the bill nicely though.

The thing is Asians, Latinos, and Native Americans were lynched in the West. White people who were found to be allies of people of color got strung up too.

I intentionally say strung up–as if flippant–because certain lives were considered cheap. Worthless. Something to be flippant about and take pictures of in your Sunday best as proof that you were there to help brutally stamp it out.

This worthless thing of a life.

I taught about lynchings at my old school. We read about Ida B. Wells-Barnett and completed research projects.

This is a part of history that I can’t let go of. Maybe it’s because so many others already have. Maybe it’s because an amazing professor, Professor Wallace, first taught me about this. I don’t know.

Regardless, let these markers–and the fights that will come to not put up these markers–lead us down a real path to Truth and Reconciliation instead of the path of Forgive and Forget.

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6 thoughts on “History of Lynchings (aka Domestic Terrorism) in the South Documents Nearly 4,000 Names

  1. I’ve been mulling this post over for the last couple of days, while reading Just Mercy (more on that in a bit). I wish there were something witty and profound that I could say, but I keep coming up empty on that score. There is SO much, however, that has been said on this topic and, yet, there is so much MORE that needs to be said.

    The day before you posted this, I read a story in the NY Times that you linked here about Bryan Stevenson and EJI’s project to mark the sites where lynchings took place. In that article, there was a map showing those sites. What struck me is that the map only included twelve states – all in the old Confederacy. My state, Oklahoma, was absent. Consequently, several lynchings I had heard about growing up were also missing. (This is not a criticism of either EJI or the project, by any stretch of the imagination.) Your subsequent comment, published in the NY Times, about other lynchings and other groups who were subjected to lynchings is spot on.

    I decided to look up more information on lynchings back home. According to the Tuskegee Institute, between 1882 and 1968, there were 122 lynchings in Oklahoma of which 82 victims were White and 40 Black. Some of those were — and still are — celebrated events, such as the supposedly last Old West lynching in the US in Ada, OK, when three cattle rustlers were hanged in 1909. (You can still find postcards of that one.) What is not clear is the definition of “White”. I suspect that, in Oklahoma’s case, it simply means “not Black”, which would lump the lynchings of Native Americans and others into the “White” category, further marginalizing those populations by mischaracterizing as not having been subjected these barbarities. There were numerous stories in our Oklahoma history classes about the extrajudicial killings of “badmen”, most of whom were either Native, Black or some mixture of both. (Cherokee Bill comes to mind.) These were always justified. After all, they were outlaws and outlaws obviously did not deserve to live. One of the most famous – and most misrepresented – of these was Ned Christie, always portrayed as a cold-blooded killer, ruthless outlaw, bootlegger, drunk, and whatnot… The truth is that he was a Senator of the Cherokee Nation, was never prosecuted for – much less convicted of – convicted of any crime and that he resisted arrest on false charges of murder for five years, while remaining in his home. (Many years later, he was cleared by an eyewitness – a Black man who had feared being lynched had he come forward at the time of the murder… His real crime? Insisting that Cherokee sovereignty be respected by the US. He was a patriot. His name would not be included in the list of lynching victims… and the history books still call him an outlaw.

    Every state undoubtedly has these twisted histories. EJI’s project will go a long way toward correcting the record. Yes, you are right. There will be resistance, probably to each and everyeffort to commemorate the lives of those killed unjustly… It is just a start — there is so much more that needs to be done — but it is, indeed, a start.

    • You know, EJI is based in Alabama and (I’m presuming) is choosing to focus on the South, but it’s interesting what people consider the South. I’ve had people insinuate I’m not from the South; I’m from the West since I’m from Texas. When I first heard this statement I was floored. I’m wondering if EJI is considering Oklahoma part of the Midwest in its analysis and, if so, why? Regardless, your comment brings up another issue that I’ve been speaking about since college: Americans are more comfortable talking about past racial injustice in the South but not in other regions. If Oklahoma is considered a part of the West, for example, why aren’t the lynchings there closely analyzed either? In my head even, the word lynching is interwoven with South even though there’s historical evidence that lynchings occurred all over the States. It’s not to point fingers or lesson the barbarity that was considered a social grace in the South, but it’s to say the US, not just the South, was built on this horror. I had a woman (I think from the Northeast) in college then say it was interesting to watch a Black woman be a Southern apologist. I didn’t know how to respond. She’d completely missed my point.

      And, yes, race as a social construct would make it hard to figure out when researching who was considered White when those lynchings were occurring in Oklahoma. Then there’s that proverb: “Until the lion has his or her own storyteller, the hunter will always have the best part of the story.” That’s what happens in our History textbooks again and again.

      We’ll see what happens with these markers! As always, thanks for commenting.

    • Thank you for sharing this. It was very powerful and moving. I love that Judge Reeves was able to acknowledge, as a judge, how the court system was all too often complicit in atrocities such as these. Gosh, thinking about this after reading Just Mercy really makes me wonder about how hard it is to even ask people for mercy. The judge even mentions Equal Justice Initiative’s latest publication about lynching too. May Mr. Anderson and his family find peace.

  2. Pingback: And I Dreamed about Living in The Dominican Repbulic: Haitian’s Lynching Renews Protests Against Dominican Citizenship Law | (Im)Migrating with a Purpose

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