The New York Times wrote today on a new research report by an organization that has been studying lynching, and has documented almost 4,000 acts of extrajudicial murder by white mobs from the years 1877-1950. Most, but not all, of the deeds took place in the South. Five of the top 10 counties for lynching are in my home state, Louisiana. Here is a summary of the Equal Justice Initiative’s report.
EJI’s contribution was to identify several hundred additional lynching cases. The previous total from the Tuskegee Institute was 4743, of which some 3446 were of black. Note that the EJI’s report considers only blacks, and only the South.
Dreher quotes from the summary:
Lynchings Based on 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.
We all need to know these things, and face down what our ancestors did. These weren’t Crusaders sacking Constantinople. These were our fathers, grandfathers, and great-grandfathers, doing it to the fathers, grandfathers, and great-grandfathers of our black neighbors. Attention must be paid. That may be the only atonement available now, but it’s better than what we have had, which is nothing.
If it needs be stated, I will (again and again): I am opposed to extrajudicial murder as an inherent violation of the Constitution’s due-process protections. And I will add to that that I am opposed to torturing people to death in all circumstances. (As Dreher points out, many of the murders described in the EJI’s summary would do ISIS proud.)
But the problem with Dreher’s call to atonement is that it never specifies exactly when the heirs (if heirs they actually be) of the murderers of century past can be assured that their accounts are settled. Here Dreher is asking for “attention”. Yet the inclusion of lynching, and the mistreatment of American blacks in general, is a staple of history curricula at all levels of education across the country. My own daughter is finally having her first public school class in American history, yet over the last three years consideration of slavery, segregation, and the Civil Rights movement have dominated the assigned (and unassigned) readings in both her Social Studies and her English lessons. You will fail to find any public figure anywhere who would call for as much nuance in our treatment of lynching as I do here. How much attention does Dreher think is enough?
EJI and Dreher both want us to generalize from the numbers to characterize lynching as an especially Southern and racist phenomenon. But I have a generalization of my own: the majority of lynching victims were accused of heinous crimes that then merited the death penalty. The EJI summary as quoted above does its best to obscure this – rape is only “sexual assault” is only “fear of interracial sex” – but EJI itself apparently found only a few hundred cases of lynching for mere social protocol violations.
I would also point out that the racial disparity in lynching (73% victimization borne by 13% of the population is a 5.6x overrepresentation) reflects the racial disparity in crime, yet EJI specifically condemns the contemporaneous public figures who pointed this out.
No public figure points this out today, and black violence against white victims isn’t even A Thing in elite discourse, school curricula, or polite conversation. But that’s kind of the point: Obama and his followers invoke the crimes of the past to obscure the crimes of the present.