How did the practice of lynching begin and evolve in American history? Professor of Afro-American studies at Smith College Paula Giddings Speaks on one of the most challenging topics in U.S. history. The history,and origins of lynching.
Lynching is an extrajudicial punishment by an informal group. It is most often used to characterize informal public executions by a mob in order to punish an alleged transgressor, or to intimidate a minority group. It is an extreme form of informal group social control such as charivari, skimmington, riding the rail, and tarring and feathering, but with a drift toward the public spectacle. Lynchings have been more frequent in times of social and economic tension, and have often been a means for a dominant group to suppress challengers. However, it has also resulted from long-held prejudices and practices of discrimination that have conditioned societies to accept this type of violence as normal practices of popular justice. Though racial oppression and the frontier mentality in the United States have given lynching its current familiar face, execution by mob justice is not exclusive to North America, but it is also found around the world as vigilantes act to punish people behaving outside of commonly acceptable boundaries. Indeed, instances of it can be found in societies long antedating European settlement of North America.
The legal and cultural antecedents of American lynching were carried across the Atlantic by migrants from the British Isles to colonial North America. Collective violence was a familiar aspect of the early modern Anglo-American legal landscape. Group violence in the British Atlantic was usually nonlethal in intention and consequence but it occasionally shaded, particularly in the seventeenth century in the context of political turmoil in England and unsettled social and political conditions in the American colonies, into rebellions and riots that took multiple lives. In the United States, during the decades before the Civil War (sometimes called the Antebellum era), assertive free-Blacks, Latinos in the South West and runaways were the object of racial lynching. But lynching attacks on U.S. blacks, especially in the South, increased dramatically in the aftermath of the Civil War, after slavery had been abolished and recently freed black men gained the right to vote. Violence rose even more at the end of the 19th century, after southern white Democrats regained their political power in the South in the 1870s. States passed new constitutions or legislation which effectively disfranchised most blacks and many poor whites, established segregation of public facilities by race, and separated blacks from common public life and facilities. Nearly 3,500 African Americans and 1,300 whites were lynched in the United States between 1882 and 1968, mostly from 1882 to 1920.
Lynching during the 19th century in the British Empire coincided with a period of violence which denied people participation in white-dominated society on the basis of race after the Emancipation Act of 1833