Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
History of Lynching in the US
Lynching may have been named for Colonel Charles Lynch who used the practice circa 1782 during the American Revolutionary War to deal with Tories and criminal elements. However, it is more commonly attributed to Captain William Lynch (1742-1820) of Pittsylvania County, Virginia, who circa 1780 led a vigilance committee there to keep order during the Revolution. After the war, as the nation expanded so did the practice of lynching. The rule of lynching as a method to maintain the social order was referred to as lynch law.
Before the US Civil War, lynching was used primarily on civil rights supporters, horse thieves, gamblers and various rogues. However by the 1880s, lynching expanded to low-status groups such as blacks (African-Americans), Jews, Native Americans, and Asian immigrants.
The practice is particularly associated with the killing of African Americans in the southern United States in the period before the civil rights reforms of the 1960s. It can be seen as a latter-day expression of the slave patrols, the bands of poor whites who policed the slaves and pursued escapees. Many whites were devastated by the war, and as they saw the conditions of black people improving they joined the culture of anti-black violence in increasing numbers.
There were often two motives for lynchings in the United States. The first was the social aspect--righting some social wrong or perceived social wrong (such as a violation of Jim Crow etiquette). The second was the economic aspect. For example, upon successful lynching of a black farmer or immigrant merchant, the land would be available and the market opened for white Americans. A black journalist, Ida B. Wells, discovered in the 1890s that black lynch victims were accused of rape or attempted rape only about one-third of the time. The most prevalent accusation was murder or attempted murder, followed by a list of infractions that included verbal and physical aggression, spirited business competition and independence of mind.
Jim Crow laws were used to force black people into a subordinate role. Lynch mobs enforced this racist social order through beatings, cutting off fingers, burning down houses, and/or destroying the crops of African-Americans. Murder was a common form of lynch mob "justice", sometimes with the complicity of law-enforcement authorities who participated directly or held victims in jail until a mob formed to carry out the murder. Hanging was the most common form of lynching but some victims were beaten, burned, stabbed, shot, or slowly tortured to death.
In some cases, lynchings were treated like circuses with many (white) families enjoying the spectacle of the execution as entertainment. More often, victims were lynched by a small group of white vigilantes late at night. Less than 1% of the lynch mob participants were ever convicted. More than 85% of the estimated 5000 lynchings in the post-Civil War period occurred in the southern US states but the problem was nationwide, peaking in 1892 when 161 African-Americans were lynched.
Three of the 1892 victims were friends of Ida B. Wells-Barnett, a black journalist. Three of her friends were lynched in Memphis, Tennessee after opening a grocery store that was in competition with a white-owned store. Outraged, Ida B. Wells-Barnett began a global anti-lynching campaign that raised awareness of the American injustice. By the 1930s, the rate of lynchings was reduced to ten per year in southern US states.
A notorious US lynching was the 1915 murder of factory manager Leo Frank, an American Jew. Frank was convicted of murder after a questionable trial in Georgia (the judge asked that the Frank and his counsel not be present when the verdict was announced due to the violent mob of people in the court house). His appeals failed (Supreme court justice Oliver Wendell Holmes dissented, condemning the intimidation of the jury as failing to provide due process of law). The governor then commuted his sentence to life imprisonment, and he was murdered. The incident focused attention on the problem of anti-semitism in the United States and reflected the Ku Klux Klan's revival with a pronounced anti-Jewish, anti-Catholic, and anti-immigrant stance.
With the election of Franklin D. Roosevelt as president in 1932, anti-lynching advocates such as Mary McLeod Bethune and Walter Francis White who had campaigned for Roosevelt were hoping for progress toward ending lynching. Senators Robert F. Wagner and Edward P. Costigan drafted a bill (the Costigan-Wagner bill) to require local authorities to protect prisoners from lynch mobs.
In another case, on July 19, 1935, Rubin Stacy was hungry and asked Marion Jones for food. Jones was frightened, and complained to the authorities. Six Dade county deputies were bringing Stacy to jail when he was killed by a lynch mob. Even after that well-reported case (which was considered egregious, because Stacy's original actions were so innocuous), Roosevelt did not support the bill, believing that it would cost him the support of whites in the south, and therefore the 1936 election.
In 1964, three US civil rights workers were lynched by white racists in Neshoba County, Mississippi. Michael Schwerner (24), Andrew Goodman (20) of New York, and James Chaney (22) from Meridian, Mississippi, members of the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE), were dedicated to non-violent direct action against racial discrimination. They disappeared in June of that year while investigating the arson of a black church being used as a "Freedom School". Their bodies were found six weeks later in a partially constructed dam near Philadelphia, Mississippi. In 2005, 80-year-old Edgar Ray Killen was arrested for the killings.
Lynching outside the US
While lynching may be most strongly associated with the American South in the first part of the 20th century, it is also seen in other parts of the world.
World War II
In 1944, Wolfgang Rosterg , a German POW known to be unsympathetic to the Nazi regime in Germany, was lynched by Nazi fanatics in a prison camp in Comrie, Scotland. After the end of the war, five of the perpetrators were hanged at Pentonville Prison - the largest mass execution in 20th century Britain.
On March 31, 2004, Iraqi citizens killed four American Blackwater USA security guards operating in Fallujah, Iraq in support of the Coalition Provisional Authority. The car in which the four Americans were driving was attacked by guerillas. All four men were killed. After the car and people were burned, the bodies were mutilated and two of them were hanged from the main bridge over the Euphrates leading to the city.
Israel, West Bank and Gaza Strip
During the first Intifada, before the PA was established, hundreds of alleged collaborators were lynched, tortured or killed, at times with the implied support of the PLO. Street killings of alleged collaborators continue in the current Intifada (see below) but so far in much fewer numbers. On October 12, 2000, Israeli reservists Vadim Norzhich and Yosef Avrahami were beaten to death and thrown out of the window of the Ramallah police station into the hands of a Palestinian mob, who then mutilated their bodies, in what was described by Amnesty International and the BBC as a "lynching"  . Some news reports said that they were suspected of being undercover agents or assassins . Since then, nineteen Israelis and dozens of Palestinians have been lynched by Palestinian gangs and militias. 
There have also been incidents of Israelis lynching or attempting to lynch Arabs suspected of terrorism, including the beating and killing of an Arab-American tourist after he accidentally skidded his car into a Jerusalem bus, killing an Israeli woman, and an attempt on an innocent Arab bystander after a Palestinian suicide bombing.  
On November 23 2004, three Mexican undercover federal agents doing a narcotics investigation were lynched in the town of San Juan Ixtayopan (Mexico City) by an angry crowd who saw them taking photographs and mistakenly suspected they were trying to abduct children from a primary school. The policemen identified themselves inmediately but were held and beaten for several hours before two of them were killed and set to fire. The whole incident was covered by the media almost from the beginning, including their pleas for help and murder. By the time police rescue units arrived, two of the policemen were reduced to charred corpses and the third was seriously injured. Authorities suspect the lynching was provoked by the persons being investigated. Both local and federal authorities abandoned them to their fate, saying the town was too far away to even try to arrive in time and some officials stating they would provoke a massacre if they tried to rescue them from the mob.
The practice of whipping and necklacing offenders and political opponents evolved in the 1980s and 1990s under the apartheid regime in South Africa. Residents of black townships lost confidence in the apartheid judicial system and formed "people's courts" that authorized whip lashings and deaths by necklacing. Necklacing is a term used to describe the torture execution of victims by igniting a rubber, kerosene-filled, tire that has been forced around the victim's chest and arms. Necklacing was used to punish numerous victims, including children, who were alleged to be traitors to the black liberation movement as well as relatives and associates of the offenders. 
The Billie Holiday song "Strange Fruit", written by Lewis Allen in 1939, refers to lynching. The lyrics are: "Southern trees bear strange fruit, blood on the leaves and blood at the roots. Black bodies swinging in the southern breeze, strange fruit hanging from the poplar trees. Pastoral scene of the gallant south, the bulging eyes and the twisted mouth. Scent of magnolias, sweet and fresh. Then the sudden smell of burning flesh. Here is fruit for the crows to pluck, for the rain to gather, for the wind to suck, for the sun to rot, for the trees to drop, here is a strange and bitter crop."
- Houghton Mifflin: The Reader's Companion to American History - Lynching
- Origin of the word Lynch
- Lynchings in the State of Iowa
- Stewart E. Tolnay and E.M. Beck, A Festival of Violence: An Analysis of Southern Lynchings, 1882-1930, Urbana and Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 1992.
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