The coloring shows relative population density from the Census of 1910. Dimmer colors on the map will indicate a lower density of people than the national median in 1910. Thus, counties fade to dim green — the most sparsely settled areas.
100 years ago, the vast majority of citizens lived in the eastern half of the country. In the West, Native nations were forcibly relocated, and settlers had swelled only in a few cities like Denver, Boise, and the far coast. Did lynching happen where people lived more closely together?
The shrinking boundaries of sovereign Native nations in 1910 are shown on the map in light pink. The removal of Native peoples was mostly complete by then, and the last of the Indian Territory was converted into the state of Oklahoma in 1907.
The Federal government began opening up large tracts of land from the once-promised boundaries of Native agencies and reservations. These are shown on the map as dotted lines.
Historically, as Euro-Americans enforced the logic of white supremacy, they lynched people of different races or ethnicities — including sometimes other white people who stood up against it. By using the best available research, the map on this website documents the ethnic backgrounds of each victim, in order to reveal any differences in their patterns.
As you learned in Part I, lynching was more than just murder committed by a few accomplices. Lynching was a collective action. It needed a lynch mob.
Normally, killing someone should lead to a crime investigation, so the murderers face their day in court. But not with a lynching: The lynchers always believed they were righteous, never worried they might face charges. To them, a dead victim meant justice: the matter was settled, and townspeople would move on. As lynching evolved into a tool of white supremacy, this is what made it (possibly) the highest expression of racism: The perpetrators were saying, We can kill you and get away with it. No one will stop us.
Mr. Work focused on a strict definition. He wanted to highlight how often it was that a town felt entitled to bypass the law.
However, two scenarios could arise in which these lines got blurred: 1. One, when a person was picked randomly —s/he was just the closest victim the mob could find— and murdered without the pretext of serving justice for the town.
2. A second scenario involved violence on a large-scale, when seething tensions exploded against an entire ethnic group. (Often this was over scarce jobs.) Those perpetrators did not claim to be agents of justice. They knew it was murder—in their rage, they didn’t care. This was a homicidal spree to avenge the established order: as the ‘superior race’, shouldn’t whites keep all the advantages for themselves? The victims of their wrath also died viciously. Some were hanged in mere minutes, dismembered, or shot up til their bodies were mutilated.
It turns out, this scenario was more prevalent in Northern cities. If you decide not to count this kind of mob, it removes most of the victims on the North half of the map. Newspapers all over the South hammered that point. [See quotes]
In 2012, author Ashraf Rushdy raised the same question about semantics in his book American Lynching:
"What does it mean, then, when what looks by all accounts like a traditional lynching is discounted because it occurred in an urban space during a spree of mob violence...?"
[After the brutal deaths in East St. Louis, Illinois,] never again can one section of the country select and set apart any other section as barbarians to a greater extent than other places. […] All parts are guilty under the stress of mob hate of giving way to the vilest passions of which human nature is capable.
—Augusta Chronicle, 27 July 1917
…[O]ur friends of the north continually are harping that we of the south are unable to cope with the ‘negro problem!’ Is this East St. Louis atrocity a demonstration of the way? […] They tell us in one breath that the negroes are leaving the south to […] go where their constitutional rights are safeguarded! Then, after luring the negroes north by such platitudes, they proceed to kill them in wholesale lots and burn their homes, for wanting to work when they get there!
…Others may disconcert the negro by painting before his eyes a roseate picture of broadened rights and racial equality to be enjoyed in the north; but in the south a negro never yet was killed simply because he wanted to work and earn a living for himself and family by honest toil!
—The Atlanta Constitution, 4 July 1917
"Despite the extreme pressure to change [my] policy with reference to what shall be included under lynchings, I continued to exclude from the record victims of riots and strikes, whether North or South."
—Monroe Work, 1940
Do you agree?
"The definitions historically used are problematic because they draw on the most iconic lynching scenario and then define anything earlier, later, or any other form of collective violence as something else."
—Ashraf Rushdy, 2012
What do you think?