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Lynchings in America

Period 1885-1950


It is estimated that during the period 1885-1950, the total number of persons lynched in the US was 4,452 of whom 3,389 were black and 1063 white giving an average of 67 a year.

The peak was 1892 when 231 known lynchings took place.

About 1935 there was a marked drop and during 1943-50 only 20 persons, an average of less than three per year fell victim to mob violence.

In 1945 only one case was reported as in 1947. During the periods where records were kept the eastern states were almost free of crime; of those in the west most were white; and in the south most were black.

Lynching had occured most frequently during periods of idleness; the principal causes in the south were for suspected murder and rape, in the west for murder and crimes against property.

These figures are almost certainly an under-estimation.

The vast majority of the victims were black Americans, the vast majority of those who did the lynching were white.

The battle to end this barbaric practice has been long and hard. Back in 1884, in Memphis, a black woman named Ida Wells, editor of a newspaper called Free Speech, reported that in a short period 728 blacks had been lynched by white mobs, over two-thirds of them grabbed off the streets or snatched from their homes for petty offences such as shoplifting or being drunk in public.

A white mob then attacked her office and smashed the printing press. Luckily for her, Ida Wells was out of town at the time.

Many hoped that the election of Franklin D. Roosevelt to the Presidency in 1932 would end lynching.

A bill was presented to Congress in 1935, but Roosevelt refused to back it, claiming that white voters in the South would never forgive him if he made lynching illegal.

Opinions hardened after the lynching that year of a young black named Rubin Stacy. Six deputies were escorting Stacy to Dade County Jail in Miami, when he was snatched from them by a mob, and taken to the home of a woman who had made a complaint against him. Here, in front of a large crowd of men, women and children, he was hanged from a tree.

A subsequent investigation revealed that Stacy, a homeless tenant farmer, had gone to the house to ask for food.

Two years after Roosevelt's death, the singer Paul Robeson made a speech against lynching at Madison Square Garden: "Stop the lynchers! What about it, President Truman? Why have you failed to speak out against this evil?" Like his predecessor, Truman did nothing.

1930 Lynching

The lynching of 18-year old Tom Shipp and 19-year-old Abe Smith in Indiana August 7, 1930. No one in the mob was charged.

Oddly enough, the last three people on the left actually look like they are having a good time as though they were simply attending an outdoor music concert.