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Writing Victims’ Personhoods and People into the History of Lynching

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  01 December 2020

Kidada E. Williams*
Wayne State University
*Corresponding author. E-mail:


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Special Forum: Lynching in the New South A Quarter of a Century Later
© The Author(s), 2020. Published by Cambridge University Press on behalf of the Society for Historians of the Gilded Age and Progressive Era (SHGAPE)

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1 “Negro, Fifteen, is Burned at Stake,” Sacramento Union, May 19, 1922; “Colored Boy, 15, Tortured and Burned by Georgians,” Broad Ax, May 27, 1922; “Negro Boy Tortured and Burned at State in Georgia After Killing White Woman,” New York Times, May 19, 1922.

2 Brundage, W. Fitzhugh, Lynching in the New South: Georgia and Virginia, 1880–1930 (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1993).Google Scholar

3 Hall, Jacquelyn Dowd, Revolt against Chivalry: Jessie Daniel Ames and the Women’s Campaign against Lynching (New York: Columbia University Press, 1979)Google Scholar; Zangrando, Robert L., The NAACP Crusade against Lynching (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1980)Google Scholar; Wright, George C., Racial Violence in Kentucky, 1865–1940: Lynchings, Mob Rule, and “Legal Lynchings” (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1996).Google Scholar

4 Bailey, Amy Kate and Tolnay, Stewart, Lynched: The Victims of Southern Mob Violence (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2015).CrossRefGoogle Scholar

5 See Doka, Kenneth J., “How We Die: Stigmatized Death and Disenfranchised Grief” in Doka, Kenneth J., ed. Disenfranchised Grief: New Directions, Challenges, and Strategies for Practice (Champaign, IL: Research Press, 2002), 331 Google Scholar. Sharpe, Tanya L., “Understanding the Sociocultural Context of Coping for African American Family Members of Homicide Victims: A Conceptual Model,” Trauma, Violence, & Abuse 16:1 (2015): 4859.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed

6 See McKittrick, Katherine, “Mathematics Black Life,” The Black Scholar 44:2 (2014): 1628.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

7 Papers of the NAACP: Part 7: The Anti-Lynching Campaign, 1912–1955, Series A: Anti-Lynching Investigative Files, 1912–1953: Gainer Atkins to Walter White, June 20, 1926; Gainer Atkins to Walter White, July 16, 1926.

8 She refers to these as “truthful lies and bloodshed,” McKittrick, “Mathematics,” 21.

9 See Waldrep, Christopher, The Many Faces of Judge. Lynch: Extralegal Violence and Punishment in America (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2002)CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Pfeifer, Michael J., Rough Justice: Lynching and American Society, 1874–1947 (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2004)Google Scholar and Roots of Rough Justice: The Origins of American Lynching (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2011); Carrigan, William D., The Making of a Lynching Culture: Violence and Vigilantism in Central Texas, 1836–1916 (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2004)Google Scholar; Trotti, Michael Ayers, “What Counts: Trends in Racial Violence in the Postbellum South,” Journal of American History 100:2 (2013): 375400 CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Campney, Brent M.S., Hostile Heartland: Racism, Repression, and Resistance in the Midwest (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2019)Google Scholar.

10 See Gunning, Sandra, Race, Rape, and Lynching: The Red Record of American Literature, 1890–1912 (New York: Oxford University Press, 1996)Google Scholar; Waldrep, Christopher, African Americans Confront Lynching: Strategies of Resistance from the Civil War to the Civil Rights Era (Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, 2009)Google Scholar; Feimster, Crystal N., Southern Horrors: Women and the Politics of Rape and Lynching (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2009)Google Scholar; Hill, Karlos K., Beyond the Rope: The Impact of Lynching on Black Culture and Memory (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2016).CrossRefGoogle Scholar

11 McKittrick writes, “the archive lies as it tells a truth.” McKittrick, “Mathematics,” 22.

12 Hartman, Saidiya V., “Venus in Two Acts,” Small Axe 26:2 (2008): 2.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

13 McKittrick, “Mathematics,” 17. See also Jacquelyn Dowd Hall, Revolt against Chivalry; Winters, Lisa Ze, The Mulatta Concubine: Terror, Intimacy, Freedom, and Desire in the Black Transatlantic (Athens: University of Georgia Press, 2016), 2566.Google Scholar

14 Doka, Disenfranchised Grief, 331.

15 Work by Hartman and McKittrick indicate we can write histories that better engage the lived experiences of our subjects if we bring more mindful approaches to our analysis of archival sources. For me this means, doing things like counting the number of lynching victims differently. See also Brown, Vincent, “Social Death and Political Life in the Study of Slavery,” The American Historical Review 114:5 (2009): 12311249.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

16 Holloway, Karla F. C., Passed On: African American Mourning Stories: A Memorial Collection (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2002)Google Scholar; Brown, Vincent, The Reaper’s Garden: Death and Power in the World of Atlantic Slavery (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2008).Google Scholar

17 Hartman, “Venus in Two Acts,” 3.

18 Behind the Veil: Documenting African-American Life in the Jim Crow South, Center for Documentary Studies at Duke University, David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library, Duke University. (accessed November 12, 2020). See also William Henry Chafe, Raymond Gavins, and Robert Korstad, Remembering Jim Crow: African Americans Tell About Life in the Segregated South (New York: The New Press, 2003); Stephen Smith, Kate Ellis, and Sasha Aslanian, Remembering Jim Crow, American RadioWorks, (accessed November 12, 2020); and Kate Ellis and Stephen Smith, “Say it Plain, Say it Loud,” American RadioWorks, (accessed November 12, 2020).

19 The Alliance for Truth and Racial Reconciliation, For more on reconciliation regarding lynching, see Ifill, Sherrilyn A., On the Courthouse Lawn: Confronting the Legacy of Lynching in the Twenty-First Century (Boston: Beacon Press, 2007).Google Scholar

20 Remembering Lynching: Strategies of Resistance and Visions of Justice, See also “Survivors and Witnesses of Lynching Tell of Fear, Faith and Forgiveness,”, last accessed Dec. 1, 2014.

22 See “Refusing to Forget,”

23 See for example, Gonzales-Day, Ken, Lynching in the West: 1850–1935 (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2006)CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Carrigan, William D. and Webb, Clive, The Forgotten Dead: Mob Violence against Mexicans in the United States, 1848–1928 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2013)Google Scholar; Pfeifer, Michael J., ed., Lynching Beyond Dixie: American Mob Violence Outside the South (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2013)CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Williams, Beth Lew, The Chinese Must Go: Violence, Exclusion, and the Making of Alien America (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2018)CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Martinez, Monica Muñoz, The Injustice Never Leaves You: Anti-Mexican Violence in Texas (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2018).CrossRefGoogle Scholar