The history of lynching across the United States

Posted January 8th, 2013 by
Category: History Tags: , , ,

Today Slate shared with their readers an historical map depicting the incidence of lynching in the United States during the years 1900-1931.

This map, offered by Slate through its new history blog, “The Vault,” was originally compiled by researchers at the Tuskegee Institute, under the leadership of Booker T. Washington.

The map is a dry, statistical compilation of death at the hands of communities across the country:

Lynching in the U.S., 1900-1931

Slate notes that during the thirty years covered by the map, Georgia led the nation in lynchings, followed by Mississippi, Louisiana, Florida, Alabama, and Arkansas. Slate doesn’t need to spell out that these top six offenders were all states in the deep South: states where slavery was especially common in the years prior to the Civil War and which still had large black populations in this period.

What isn’t mentioned in the Slate blog entry is that while lynchings were more common in the deep South, there were lynchings during this period across the entire nation. This includes states in the Northeast, which had historically known slavery for about two centuries, as well as states in the Midwest and West, where slavery had existed but was generally less common.

The scan of the map available online at the Library of Congress is more detailed and reveals the state-by-state count of lynchings during these thirty years: Oklahoma, 48; Montana, 9; California, 12; and so on, in all regions of the nation.

Although some of the numbers may seem small, it’s important to recognize that lynching was only the most violent, and the most public, form of racial oppression during the Jim Crow era. Lynchings required widespread acceptance, if not active participation, across the white population of a community. Other forms of violence, oppression, and discrimination could thrive more easily, among a smaller core of determined white citizens, or be widely practiced without attracting as much notice to individual participants, or or requiring as much of a commitment to a blatant, and openly murderous, form of racism.

In short, lynchings are just one illustration of the historical lesson that the entire nation was caught up in slavery and racial oppression, and that the Jim Crow era, in particular, implicated all regions of the country, not just the South.

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