Lynching in the United States

Lynching, the practice of killing people by extrajudicial mob action, occurred in the United States chiefly from the late 18th century through the 1960s. Lynchings took place most frequently against African-American men in the Southern US from 1890 to the 1920s with a peak in 1892. Lynchings were also very common in the Old West, where victims were primarily men of Mexican and Chinese minorities, although whites were also lynched.

Lynching in the South is associated with the imposition of white supremacy by whites in the late 19th century following Reconstruction. The granting of U.S. Constitutional rights to freedmen after the American Civil War during the Reconstruction era (1865–1877) aroused anxieties among white Southerners, who were not ready to concede such social status to African Americans. They blamed the freedmen for their own wartime hardship, economic loss, and forfeiture of social and political privilege. During Reconstruction, freedmen and Whites active in the pursuit of civil rights, were sometimes lynched in the South. In addition, blacks were intimidated and attacked to prevent their voting, with violence increasing around elections from 1868 into the late 1870s. White Democrats regained control of State Legislatures in 1876 and a national compromise on the presidential election resulted in the removal of federal troops and official end to Reconstruction. There continued to be violence around elections to suppress black voting, particularly with the rise of the Populist Party and some victories by Populist-Republican candidates in the 1890s.

From 1890 to 1908, southern legislatures passed new constitutions and electoral rules to disfranchise most blacks and many poor whites, ending election violence. They enacted a series of segregation and Jim Crow laws to enforce second-class status against blacks. During this period of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, lynchings reached a peak, reflecting the social tensions as well as economic hard times. Lynchings peaked in many areas when it was time to settle accounts with sharecroppers.

Decades later, during the late stages of the Civil Rights Movement, violence erupted again, with murders of black activists throughout the South, and bombings in Birmingham, Alabama of homes of aspiring African Americans. During the increased activities of the 1960s, there were notable lynchings of integration rights workers in Mississippi, which resulted in the galvanizing of national public support for federal civil rights legislation passed by Congress in 1964 and 1965.

The Tuskegee Institute has recorded 3,446 blacks and 1,297 whites being lynched between 1882 and 1968, with the annual peak occurring in the late 1800s, when Democrats acted to enforce white supremacy.

African Americans mounted resistance to lynchings in numerous ways. Intellectuals and journalists encouraged public education, actively protesting and lobbying against lynch mob violence and government complicity in that violence. The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), as well as numerous other organizations, organized support from white and black Americans alike and conducted a national campaign to get a federal anti-lynching law passed. African American women's clubs raised funds to support the work of public campaigns, including anti-lynching plays. Their petition drives, letter campaigns, meetings and demonstrations helped to highlight the issues and combat lynching. In the Great Migration, extending in two waves from 1910 to 1970, 6.5 million African Americans left the South, primarily for destinations in northern and mid-western cities, both to gain better jobs and education and to escape the high rate of violence.

From 1882 to 1968, "...nearly 200 anti-lynching bills were introduced in Congress, and three passed the House. Seven presidents between 1890 and 1952 petitioned Congress to pass a federal law." In 1920 the Republican Party promised at its national convention to support passage of such a law. In 1921 Leonidas C. Dyer from Saint Louis sponsored an anti-lynching bill; it was passed in January 1922 in the United States House of Representatives, but a Senate filibuster by the Southern white Democratic block defeated it in December 1922. With the NAACP, Representative Dyer spoke across the country in support of his bill in 1923 and tried to gain passage that year and the next, but was defeated by the Southern Democratic block.

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