Black History | Characteristics of the Lynching Era

The thousands of African Americans lynched between 1880 and 1950 differed in many
respects, but in most cases, the circumstances of their murders can be categorized as one
or more of the following

1. Lynchings that resulted from a wildly distorted fear of interracial sex

Nearly 25 percent of the lynchings of African Americans in the South were based on charges of sexual assault. The mere accusation of rape, even without an identification by the alleged victim, could arouse a lynch mob. The definition of black-on-white “rape” in the South required no allegation of force because white institutions, laws, and most white people rejected the idea that a white woman would willingly consent to sex with an African American man.

Lynching Report

2. Lynchings in response to casual social transgressions

Hundreds of African Americans accused of no serious crime were lynched for social grievances like speaking disrespectfully, refusing to step off the sidewalk, using profane language, using an improper title for a white person, suing a white man, arguing with a white man, bumping into a white woman, and insulting a white person. African Americans living in the South during this era were terrorized by the knowledge that they could be lynched if they intentionally or accidentally violated any social convention defined by any white person.

3. Lynchings based on allegations of serious violent crime

More than half of the lynching victims EJI documented were killed under accusation of committing murder or rape. Deep racial hostility in the South during this period focused suspicion on black people, whether evidence supported that suspicion or not, especially in cases of violent crime against white victims.

4. Public spectacle lynchings

Large crowds of white people, often numbering in the thousands and including elected officials and prominent citizens, gathered to witness pre-planned, heinous killings that featured prolonged torture, mutilation, dismemberment, and/or burning of the victim. White press justified and promoted these carnival like events, with vendors selling food, printers producing postcards featuring photographs of the lynching and corpse, and the victim’s body parts collected as souvenirs. These killings were bold, public acts that implicated the entire community and sent a message that African Americans were sub-human, their subjugation was to be achieved through any means necessary, and whites who carried out lynchings would face no legal repercussions.

henry smith lynching

5.Lynchings that escalated into large-scale violence targeting the entire African American community

Some lynch mobs targeted entire black communities by forcing black people to witness lynchings and demanding that they leave the area or face a similar fate. These lynchings were designed for broad impact—to send a message of domination, to instill fear, and sometimes to drive African Americans from the community. After a lynching in Forsyth County, Georgia, in 1912, white vigilantes distributed leaflets demanding that all black people leave the county or suffer deadly consequences; so many black families fled that, by 1920, the county’s black population had plunged from 1100 to just thirty.

6.Lynchings of sharecroppers, ministers, and community leaders who resisted mistreatment


From 1915 to 1940, whites used lynching to suppress African Americans who, individually and in organized groups, were demanding the economic and civil rights to which they were entitled.

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21 Responses to Black History | Characteristics of the Lynching Era

  1. majiir says:

    Even today here in GA, Forsyth County is one of the whitest counties in the state. That it still is goes to show that the attitudes of those who ran blacks out in 1912 lingered for a very long time and still has an effect on its citizens.

  2. yahtzeebutterfly says:

    Amidst all the atrocities, the Black souls remained pure unlike those of the White perpetrators and spectators.

    Here is a tweet from Deray today that speaks to this:

    deray mckesson @deray · 9h 9 hours ago
    “That we call for justice and not revenge is a testament to the souls of black folk. We have never become the evil that we face.”

  3. rikyrah says:

    The whole postcards on lynchings is inhumane.

  4. yahtzeebutterfly says:

    My heart has been so sickened this week by having to face, to look at, to acknowledge the horrors committed by my White race against the Black community….To feel the horror that for decades our national government did nothing to end the terrorism, but simply “took notes” or had Congressional inquiries.

    I can’t imagine why it took SO long for the U.S. government to create an anti-lynching law.

    Right now, there is so much that I am feeling that I cannot put into words.

    • yahtzeebutterfly says:

      I need to talk about White silence…silence by decent, caring and compassionate Whites.
      Whites who know that no such atrocities were ever committed against the Black community by their ancestors.

      Even though it is too late for me to find out (because my parents have passed away), I still have to ask, did my parents, grandparents, great grandparents (all Northerners or Westerners) ever ACTIVELY speak out against lynchings and atrocities against the Black community? Did they ever write their Congressmen to push for an anti-lynching law? Did they demand that the U.S. government get involved in stopping the horrors? Or, did they just read about the horrors in newspapers over their morning coffee and say “How TERRIBLE! ”

      How many people, knowing of the atrocities, did nothing to force change and did not publicly speak out?

      Silence and inaction by the good White people of America allowed the heinous acts to continue.

      • Yahtc

        My mind can’t comprehend how one can watch a person being brutally tortured, castrated and eyes gouged out and set afire. It’s crimes against humanity. And like Liza said…this was state sanctioned.

      • Ametia says:

        And all this talk of “STATES RIGHTS” by the Rand Pauls and other RWNJ is merely shades of this time when white folks ruled the roost and sanctioned these heinous crimes against humanity.

  5. yahtzeebutterfly says:

    Ida B. Wells led an anti-lynching crusade in the 1890’s:

  6. Liza says:

    The fact that white people got dressed up and brought the family to watch the violent murder of a human being for their entertainment is incomprehensible, yet this is what they did. The only thing that compares to this level of lawlessness and crimes against humanity are the state sanctioned atrocities committed in wartime. These lynchings are state sanctioned domestic terrorism, the very definition of lawlessness.

  7. Ametia says:

    Lynchings were done to black folks, because they had BLACK skin and not seen as HUMAN.

    What sane human with a conscience could hand and burn any human, unless he didn’t view them as human as well?


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