Part II –

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When you are presented with new information, it is important to take time to understand the source it comes from. Ask questions: What biases might be coming from that source? Can you trust it?

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1. Can you find the name of the company who publishes #PlainTalkHistory?

Does the publisher cite their sources? Also visit the company website of the publisher. From their website, assess if you see any viewpoints: what values do they seem to support? Would these values affect the way they tell a story?

2. Is there bias from Mr. Work who was counting the lynchings?

Recall from Part I that Monroe Work started his own data from Tuskegee, Alabama, because he did not want his publication associated with a Northerner’s tendency to scorn the South. He wanted to make a case based on "the facts."

Mr. Work was a sociologist, so he perceived the world as a scholar. He was interested in studying the experiences which black people really lived.

You also learned that Mr. Work made a choice about how to count lynchings, and the result put less emphasis on the North.

Also, remember that he was quiet and worked behind the scenes. He did not participate in protests, he was considered somewhat conservative compared to the activists of the time. Are there any other inclinations he might have held?

After you reflect, does it slightly strengthen your trust in the information, or weaken it?

This question has no definite answer— you can only determine it for yourself. This step is not the same thing as whether you agree with this site, it is about whether the information is valid. (P.S. You should do this with any article you read online.)

Some questions about the information do have an answer:

Photo credits: click here


Photograph of Monroe Work as a student in Chicago, circa 1898, is in the public domain. Appears in Recorder of the Black Experience: A biography of Monroe Nathan Work, by Linda McMurry, p. 20.

Photo of Monroe Work from 1913 appears in The Indianapolis Recorder, 20 Sep 1913. From box 97.001, folder 2, Papers of Monroe N. Work, Archives, Tuskegee University.

Where did the data for these deaths come from?

This website uses a new database created in 2014–2016 called the MonroeWorkToday Dataset Compilation, which was updated again in 2019. It contains over 5600 potential victims of lynchings, near-lynchings, mistaken cases, and racialized mob violence by the defenders of white supremacy. Not all of them are shown here. Of these 5600, this website made the decision to display 4391 lynchings and 636 additional victims of mob violence which are the most certain cases.

The database was born in the public library. It was compiled by auut studio after more than three years of careful work comparing the original records of Monroe Work preserved at the Tuskegee University Archives, against all of the research that has been written by modern-day scholars about lynching and race riots. Every person in the database has a citation to one or more supporting sources. You can learn about the way decisions were made in the bibliography.

This is one of the largest inventories of lynching ever compiled, but is it the “best”? This map has four important caveats to know.

I think the map is missing more deaths.

You are definitely correct. We will never have a perfect list of all people who met their death by lynching in the US. It is not because they were secret — in fact, they were done out in the open. But some are barely recorded: it was considered a local affair, and not always reported in a newspaper. Or they occurred in towns too small to have a newspaper... or too long ago. As recently as 2019, people who researched lynchings in their state have discovered even more that had occurred.

Furthermore, there are some victims (whose names you may find on other websites), which are not displayed on this map. This is because there remains some doubt about those events, based on the available information. In truth, most of the lynchings identified by Monroe Work in the early 1900s have been verified by scholars of today. However some lynchings that he counted could not be documented by scholars, so this leaves room for reasonable doubt on those particular ones.

On this website, 586 names do not appear on the map in order to be conservative and cautious about whether to call them a lynching. Many people can rightfully disagree and desire to include these 586 cases. Some researchers continue to investigate these.

Weren’t white people lynched too?

The answer is yes. In the earliest years when lynching arose as a phenomenon, it was used against criminal suspects or ‘undesirable’ people who raised the ire of a townspeople. This included white people accused of a heinous crime, who were hanged or put to death without a legal trial. As is discussed earlier in Part I of the lesson, the phenomenon of lynching underwent an evolution in the 1880s, and the number of white victims dropped suddenly. In a matter of just a few years, lynching transformed into a favorite weapon of white supremacy used (especially cruelly) on black people.

After 1886, black people were 88% of all recorded lynchings in the South. Yet black people were only 36% of the population in the South in 1890.

All lynchings are a mockery of justice, since it denied that person the fundamental fairness of a trial. But this website chooses to present a map of those lynchings and deadly mob violence which were directed against people of color or used to uphold white supremacy. It is undeniable that this was a specific important motivation in the early 1900s. It is a core part of our history which people are still afraid to consider honestly.

Can I zoom in to find where the person died?

Unfortunately, the points on these maps are not in their exact locations. But this was done on purpose.

Sometimes in the historical record, the deaths are mentioned for the specific town where they happened. Other times, we know it happened on the outskirts of town, or the person was dragged to a far location many miles from town. Sometimes we can only know the general county where it occurred. Thus it is not fair to assume from the records that any dot is at precisely its accurate location, as if we could zoom-in on the GPS coordinates. In order to recognize that these locations are always an estimation, the points on this map were placed simply in the center of each county where it occurred.

Careful: it is faulty logic to use this map to decide that some places suffered "more racism."

There are many reasons for this. One is the limitations to the data available, and another is the nature of what you are asking. Counting up lynching murders is not an accurate proxy for all violent racism. This website urges you to remember:

1. This is a map ONLY of the people who were killed by mobs.

There are over 5,020 victims on this website. But in thousands of cases across the US, members of the town threatened to, even attempted to lynch a person held in jail. The distinguished researcher Dr. E.M. Beck has counted some of these attempts in the Southern states, and discovered over 3,500 cases when a lynching was threatened. This includes over 1,800 cases where the authorities successfully stopped the mob by taking extraordinary precautions, or sometimes the accused person was injured but able to escape. So as a record of murderous intentions, this website could be an undercount of 25% to 40%, and this might be true unevenly: in some places more than other states.

Also in the US there have been many other white supremacy riots where their victims were injured or hospitalized, but no one was killed. One example of this was the 1907 Bellingham Riots in Washington state which targeted over 500 South Asian people.

There were also cases when the victim had a mockery of "trial" in a real court, which lasted only a few minutes before the jury decided and the mob dragged him out to administer the hanging. It would be impossible to consider that a fair judgement today. But historians consider those cases to be legal capital punishment sentenced by the court, not as a lynching.

Also, in the Far West the method most often used to terrorize Chinese people was by burning down the entire neighborhood to ruin their livelihoods and cause the residents to flee forever. Yet, no one was killed. These incidents do not appear on the map.

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2. This map does not show every lynching there ever was. This is an undercount.

Some victims were not displayed in this map because there is some doubt about them based on the available information. Most of the lynchings identified by Monroe Work in the early 1900s have been verified by scholars of today. However some lynchings that he counted could not be documented by scholars quite so easily, so this leaves doubt on those particular ones. On this website, 586 more deaths have been omitted (they do not appear on the map) in order to be the most conservative and cautious about this doubt. Many people can rightfully disagree and desire to include these 586 cases. Some researchers continue to investigate these.

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3. The data for these lynchings were stitched together from multiple scholarly books.

Remember that different researchers did not always use the same methods to uncover lynchings, so not every death in the newspapers was evaluated consistently by the same person. Even back in the 1900s some states used a different definition of lynching. One example is North Carolina, where officials reported an act of lynching only if a person was physically seized from the jailhouse before being killed by a mob. Yet if the mob grabbed a suspect from their home (or off the street), then North Carolina's government did not want to count it as a lynching. Most other states counted both kinds. Ever since since Monroe Work's time, activists have been arguing passionately with each other about the criteria for lynchings.

As a result, this means you cannot accurately compare one state against another using this map. The purpose of this map is to remember every name we can, not to rank the states.

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4. The act of lynching is just one form of violence which was used to enforce the social order. Do not mistake this map for the whole story.

There are many forms of racist violence, like harassment and intimidation, brutality, sudden killing sprees that are called race riots, seizing someone's property, banishing people at gunpoint, or the grave threat of death posted as warning signs throughout sundown towns in the North. These incidents are more numerous than lynchings, but do not appear in the map.

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For all of the reasons mentioned above, it is wrong to use this map to measure the "amount" of racism in two places. DO NOT jump into this faulty conclusion.

Be careful to draw responsible conclusions as you use this map. Remember that the pixels on your screen represent real human beings, flawed or not. Please respect the complexity of the stories that cannot be contained on your screen or reduced to mere numbers.

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What is the difference between the lynchings and ‘‘mob violence’’?

Remember from Part I that the word lynching has changed definitions over time. During the era on this map, lynching included a sense of justification and "justice" by the perpetrators, who acted as if they were serving the will of the entire community. In their worldview, this made them different from murderers. Everyone involved in the mob expected there would be no consequences for their action.

Because they were confident of impunity, and filled with the rage of hatred, lynch mobs could grow gruesome in their work. As the author Leon Latwick noted in his essay Hellhounds, "the story of lynching, then, is more than the simple fact of a black man or woman hanged by the neck. It is the story of a slow, methodical, sadistic, often highly inventive forms of torture and mutiliation."

This led activists in the 1900s to debate which murders should count as lynchings. Monroe Work maintained a conservative definition that led him to not always count as many lynchings as other sources. There are at least two scenarios that could arise in which the lines got blurred. You can learn more about the controversy, and make your own judgement, by clicking here.

Why does the border of my local county appear wrong?

This website attempts to take you back and imagine the United States from a historical time. So this map recreates the boundaries of the US interior as of 100 years ago, and the counties drawn on the land are the ones that existed in the year 1916. The borders of Native American nations, reservations and agencies (and the lands recently opened from them) are also shown from that decade.

Over time, counties evolved their borders as the state legislatures adjusted them to areas which became more densely populated. This is especially true in the Far West, where the original counties were huge blocks of land from settlement times.

Why are Italians are marked separately?

Italians who immigrated to the U.S. after the Civil War, and southern Italians in particular, often had a dark complexion and shiny black hair. Many Anglo-Saxons questioned their membership in the "white race." As a group, they often experienced suspicion or discrimination from their white neighbors (who were people who immigrated in the US in earlier times). On this basis, the federal Immigration Act of 1924 limited the number of southern and eastern Europeans who could migrate to the United States.

Italians, like all immigrants, sought a better life in the American economic experiment. Some settled in the North to work in factories and mills. Others arrived in the Deep South, where jobs in plantation farming could pay relatively well. One large population was established in Louisiana where they worked on sugar plantations that lined the Mississippi River. White Louisianans, like white people elsewhere, still held stereotypes for people from southern Europe: they were seen as "dirty", criminal, and inferior to people with a heritage from France, Germany, and Anglo-Saxon culture.

So Italians, like black Americans, often remained very low in social and economic standing. White society had a specific vulgar slur for each of these groups, to dehumanize them and treat them with disgust.