Lynching in the United States was the widespread occurrence of extrajudicial killings which began in the pre–Civil War South in the 1830s and ended during the civil rights movement in the 1950s and 1960s. Although the victims of lynchings were members of various ethnicities, after roughly 4 million enslaved African Americans were emancipated, they became the primary targets of white Southerners. Lynchings in the U.S. reached their height from the 1890s to the 1920s, and they primarily victimised ethnic minorities. Most of the lynchings occurred in the American South because the majority of African Americans lived there, but racially motivated lynchings also occurred in the Midwest and border states.
Lynchings followed African Americans with the Great Migration (c. 1916–1970) out of the American South, and were often perpetrated to enforce white supremacy and intimidate ethnic minorities along with other acts of racial terrorism. A significant number of lynching victims were accused of murder or attempted murder. Rape, attempted rape or other forms of sexual assault were the second most common accusation; often used as pretexts for lynching African Americans who were accused of violating Jim Crow era etiquette or engaged in economic competition with whites. One study found that there were "4,467 total victims of lynching from 1883 to 1941. Of these victims, 4,027 were men, 99 were women, and 341 were of unidentified gender (although likely male); 3,265 were black, 1,082 were white, 71 were Mexican or of Mexican descent, 38 were American Indian, 10 were Chinese, and 1 was Japanese."
A common perception of lynchings in the U.S. is that they were only hangings, due to their public visibility, which made it easier for photographers to photograph the victims. Some lynchings were professionally photographed and then the photos were distributed as postcards, which became popular souvenirs in parts of the United States. Lynching victims were also killed in a variety of other ways; being shot, burned alive, thrown off a bridge, dragged behind a car, etc. Occasionally, the body parts of the victims were removed and sold as souvenirs. Lynchings were not always fatal; "mock" lynchings, which involved putting a rope around the neck of someone who was suspected of concealing information, was sometimes used to compel people to make "confessions." Lynch mobs varied in size from just a few people, to crowds of thousands.
According to historian Michael J. Pfeifer, the prevalence of lynchings in post–Civil War America reflected people's lack of confidence in the "due process" of the U.S. judicial system. He links the decline in lynchings in the early twentieth century to "the advent of the modern death penalty", and argues that "legislators renovated the death penalty...out of direct concern for the alternative of mob violence". Pfeifer also cited "the modern, racialized excesses of urban police forces in the twentieth century and after" as bearing characteristics of lynchings.
On April 26, 2018, in Montgomery, Alabama, The National Memorial for Peace and Justice opened. Founded by the Equal Justice Initiative of that city, it is the first large-scale memorial created to document lynchings of African Americans in the United States.
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