A group documenting lynchings is trying to erect markers at the sites, but expects local opposition.
Nearly 4,000 African Americans were victims of “racial terror lynchings” in the South between 1877 and 1950, according to a new report by the Equal Justice Initiative.
The report, released today, is the result of some five years of research by the organization. It has found that racial terror lynching was much more prevalent than previously reported. The researchers documented several hundred more lynchings than had been identified in the past. They did so by reviewing local newspapers, historical archives and court records. They also conducted interviews with local historians, and the families and descendants of the victims.
In all, EJI documented 3,959 lynchings of black people in twelve Southern states, which is at least 700 more lynchings in these states than previously reported. More than half of the lynching victims were killed under accusation of committing murder or rape against white victims. The EJI says that racial hostility fed suspicion that the perpetrators of the crimes were black and the accusations were seldom scrutinized. “Of the hundreds of black people lynched under accusation of rape and murder, nearly all were killed without being legally convicted,” says the report.
Some states and regions were particularly terrifying for African Americans, with dramatically higher rates of lynchings compared to the rest of the South. These areas included Florida, Mississippi, Arkansas and Louisiana. Counties that were particularly terrifying were Hernando, Taylor, Lafayette, and Citrus counties in Florida; Early and Oconee counties in Georgia; Fulton County, Kentucky; and Moore County, Tennessee, which had the highest rates of lynchings. Phillips County, Arkansas, and Lafourche and Tensas parishes in Louisiana were regions of mass killings of African Americans that make them historically notorious. Georgia and Mississippi had the highest number of lynchings of all the Southern states.
In conversations with survivors of those that had been lynched, EJI found that lynching played an integral role in the migration of millions of African Americans away from Southern states.
EJI also found that there was an astonishing lack of effort to acknowledge, discuss or address lynching in Southern states and communities. According to the report, many of these communities tried to veil this violent past by erecting monuments memorializing the Confederacy and the Civil War instead, while hiding the violence and terror used against African Americans.
The report says that there are currently few memorials that address the legacy of lynching, and that most communities do not actively recognize how their race relations were shaped by terror lynching.
Bryan Stevenson of EJI told the New York Times that his group wants to force people to reckon with the country’s violent and racist past by erecting the memorials. He said the EJI hopes to select some of the lynching sites and erect markers there. This will involve a significant amount of fundraising by the non-profit group. EJI is also bracing for controversies and objections as it tries to erect these markers.
“Lynching and the terror era shaped the geography, politics, economics and social characteristics of being black in America during the 20th century,” said Stevenson.
The report by EJI is part of a larger project that also involves the recognition of slave markets in the South and the erection of markers on those sites, particularly in Montgomery, AL. Stevenson said that regional and state governments have not been receptive to such markers although there are plenty of Civil War memorials in Montgomery, as well as some Civil Rights movement markers.