Lynching — More Insidious Than You Realized

As a history nerd, I’ve always claimed that so much never makes it into the school history books.  I have another example.

Recently, I ran across a book entitled Black Newspapers & America’s War For Democracy 1914-1920 by William G. Jordan (University of North Carolina Press, 2001).  On page 42, I ran across a paragraph with information I’d never considered.

“Lynching, which had originated in the America Revolution when patriot Charles Lynch organized a vigilante association to rid his Virginia county of Tories, resembled European  misdeeds in that it violated the rule of law, according to black editors. In the early nineteenth century, lynchings took place mostly on the frontier, where practitioners hoped to deter crime in areas of dispersed population and weak law enforcement. Lynchers targeted mostly whites until the Civil War, when Confederates lynched some slaves to prevent rebellion. During Reconstruction, lynchers attacked both black and white Republicans as a means of political intimidation. Even later, in the first four years of record keeping, 1882-85, white victims outnumbered blacks 401 to 227, but from 1886 onward, the number of white victims declined steadily, totaling no more than eight in one year after 1915. Contemporary apologists claimed that lynching of blacks was necessary to deter black criminals and especially rapists who, they alleged, preyed on white women in sparsely populated areas. Social scientists have tied lynching to economic stress or class conflict, southern cultural ideals, and the drive to control blacks.”

In other words, lynching has been a long-standing problem in this country involving more than race.  This is corroborated in a Wikipedia entry, “Lynching in the United States.”  (For those with strong stomachs, it’s at  It states–

 “On a per capita basis lynchings were also common in California and the Old West, especially of Latinos, although they represented less than 10% of the national total. Native Americans and Asian Americans were also lynched.[1] Other ethnicities (white, Finnish-American, Jewish, Irish, Italian-American) were occasionally lynched.”

And a bit later —

“According to the Tuskegee Institute, 4,743 people were lynched between 1882 and 1968, including 3,446 African Americans and 1,297 whites. More than 73 percent of lynchings in the post-Civil War period occurred in the Southern states.[7]

As horrifically brutal as lynching has been for blacks, it’s unsettling to realize how widespread the crime has been in this nation’s history.  It makes one wonder, was anybody really safe from rumor, ethnic hatred, and a mob mentality?  (My family is German on both sides, and German immigrant Robert Prager was lynched in Collinsville, IL on April 4, 1918*.)  Hopefully, as we move through these turbulent political times, we will have learned from the past and today have a more civilized and law-abiding attitude.  Hopefully…

No pictures with this one.



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