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Reactions to Lynchings

(This page was developed by a Berea College student as part of a course on Chesnutt)

Between the years 1882-1903, the South lynched 2, 585 people. 1, 985 of those people were black, which included 40 women. This shows that the South had no problem with lynching people and actually must have liked doing it, or else there would have been so many within a 21 year span. Actually, back in that time advertisements were made to get people to come to lynchings and it was considered a public spectacle, where anyone was welcome to attend if they could stomach what would happen. Also, lynching was most often tolerated by people of high class who owned property in the South and who probably owned slaves so I can see why they would be in favor of it. It was a way to make sure that their slaves kept in line and didn't do things that they knew they shouldn't be doing in the first place.

Little is actually known about the North's reactions to lynchings, but I don't think that it was very high. Statistics show that they didn't lynch as many people as the South did, that is for certain. One reason that I believe lynchings weren't tolerated as much in the North was that black people were free there. The citizens of the North didn't have slaves and so didn't have to keep them in line and other such things.

White vs. Black

For the most part, white people looked favorably upon lynchings. They thought that it was a way to keep the black population under their control and to keep them scared so that they wouldn't commit crimes. Also, I think that some whites were sick individuals and must have gotten a kick out of tormenting others. It also depended on where the person lived, though, because as I said before people in the North frowned upon lynchings more than people living in the South at this time. Another factor to consider is that poor whites were sometimes compelled into lynch mobs because they were afraid of economic competition from the blacks. They didn't want their jobs, hence their money, being stolen from them by black people.

The blacks didn't like lynching because for the most part they were directed towards them at this time. In order to stop this, black people devised techniques to resist white violence. Nowhere in the South could they suppress lynching, but they could play a role in restraining white violence, which they did very well. We also know that black women campaigned strongly against lynching in order to let the world know that they existed and wouldn't be put down without a fight. Little is actually known, however, about the responses of southern black communities to threatened or accomplished lynchings. We can only assume that they didn't agree with it, since it was slaughtering people from their own community but we don't know that for certain. Because of this, our understanding of lynchings in the South will be limited even though we already know quite a bit.

This page is compiled from: The Internet and Under Sentence of Death: Lynching in the South, edited by W. Fitzhugh Brundage, University of North Carolina Press, 1997.