Lynching in the United States
refers, primarily, to the practice in the 19th and 20th centuries of the humiliation and killing of people by mobs acting outside the law. These murders, most of them unpunished, often took the form of hanging
and burning. To demonstrate a ritual of power, mobs sometimes tortured the victim.
became highly associated with Southern
efforts to retain and enforce white supremacy
after their initial defeat in the American Civil War
. In their defeat, Southern whites resisted allowing full legal and civil rights to African Americans
. The aftermath of war increased social and economic volatility. The formal end of the war meant that groups shifted to other means to try to resist Federal occupation and changes to the law.
The civil rights
aspects of the short Reconstruction
that immediately followed the Civil War, and then again later in the mid-20th century aroused anxieties among white citizens about African American political power. African American citizens and white allies were lynched during both these periods. Although African Americans were sometimes able to defend their communities, white militias were more heavily armed and had more military experience. Lynchings during the 1960s in Mississippi
galvanized public support for the Civil Rights Movement
In the 1870s, Democrats
regained power through affiliated militia terrorism of black and white Republicans
, assassination of community leaders and political activists, and intimidation and restriction of voters at the polls. Even after the Democrats regained power throughout the South, between 1880 and 1951 the Tuskegee Institute
recorded lynchings of 3,437 African-American victims, as well as 1,293 white victims. Southern states completed disfranchisement of African Americans about the turn of the century. Their white Democratic representatives comprised such a powerful voting block in Congress that they consistently defeated Federal bills against lynching.
African American writers, journalists and playwrights mounted public education, protests and a campaign against lynching in the late 19th and early 20th century. Through the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People
(NAACP), they were joined by white activists. African American women's club networks raised funds to support the work of public campaigns, including anti-lynching plays. In 1930
white Southern women formed the Association of Southern Women for the Prevention of Lynching
to join the struggle. Their petition drives, letter campaigns, meetings and demonstrations helped to highlight the issues. Together the groups' efforts led to a reduction in lynching.