Skip to Main Content
Have library access? Log in through your library
American Lynching

American Lynching

Ashraf H. A. Rushdy
Copyright Date: 2012
Published by: Yale University Press
Pages: 288
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    American Lynching
    Book Description:

    After observing the varying reactions to the 1998 death of James Byrd Jr. in Texas, called a lynching by some, denied by others, Ashraf Rushdy determined that to comprehend this event he needed to understand the long history of lynching in the United States. In this meticulously researched and accessibly written interpretive history, Rushdy shows how lynching in America has endured, evolved, and changed in meaning over the course of three centuries, from its origins in early Virginia to the present day.

    Rushdy argues that we can understand what lynching means in American history by examining its evolution-that is, by seeing how the practice changes in both form and meaning over the course of three centuries, by analyzing the rationales its advocates have made in its defense, and, finally, by explicating its origins. The best way of understanding what lynching has meant in different times, and for different populations, during the course of American history is by seeing both the continuities in the practice over time and the specific features in different forms of lynching in different eras.

    eISBN: 978-0-300-18474-7
    Subjects: History, Sociology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. PREFACE: An American Icon
    (pp. ix-xiv)
    (pp. xv-xviii)
  5. INTRODUCTION: The Study of Lynching
    (pp. 1-21)

    There is a crucial scene toward the end of Owen Wister’s 1902The Virginianthat ties together and leads to the resolution of both the political and romance plots of the novel. Judge Henry, a former federal judge and now a Wyoming cattle rancher, engages in a debate with Molly Wood in order to justify the acts and career of the eponymous hero of the novel, the lover of Molly and the hired gunslinger from Virginia whose job is to kill cattle rustlers in Wyoming. As Judge Henry considers the task before him, he realizes that his defense cannot resort...

  6. 1 The Rise of Lynching
    (pp. 22-50)

    At the National Convention of Colored Men held in Syracuse, New York, in early October 1864, the Reverend H. H. Garnet reminded his listeners of a particularly notorious act of mob violence done the previous July during the New York City draft riots. After an African American man was hanged from a tree, a member of the largely Irish-American mob took “a sharp knife, cut out pieces of the quivering flesh, and offered it to the greedy, blood-thirsty mob, saying, ‘Who wants some nigger meat?’” Reflecting on the uniformly kind treatment he had received while he traveled in Ireland, “from...

  7. 2 The Race of Lynching
    (pp. 51-68)

    Popular representations of lynching assume that there are two distinct activities that fall under that rubric—one involving the hanging of cattle rustlers on frontiers, and the other the torture and brutal mob killing of African Americans. In the terms George W. Bush used in 2008, the former would be “prairie justice,” the latter “gross injustice.” Both, in popular representations, are products of post-Reconstruction America, the “age of lynching,” as it were. And, in particular, the lynching of African Americans, the “gross injustice” of racial lynching, is most emphatically seen as a phenomenon that begins in the 1880s. We have...

  8. 3 The Age of Lynching
    (pp. 69-93)

    In the spring of 1899, just outside Newnan, Georgia, Sam Hose was tortured, mutilated, castrated, and then burned alive in front of a crowd of about two thousand. The mob did its work methodically, different people cutting off each ear, different men removing each joint of his fingers. Only when they reached the work of emasculation did the mob of white men become boisterously chaotic, accidently cutting each others’ hands in what one newspaper called “the delirious frenzy of the men to perform the bloody task.” Following the torture and mutilation, the lynchers poured kerosene over Hose and the surrounding...

  9. 4 The Discourse of Lynching
    (pp. 94-122)

    In June 1998 three young white supremacists in Jasper, Texas, committed an almost unimaginably cruel murder by dragging an African American man behind their truck until his body almost disintegrated; they then left what remained of his torso in front of a black church. It was later discovered that they had written up a plan to initiate a white supremacist cult with a ritual murder of a black man. As they chained their victim to the truck, the three young men stripped off his pants and underwear. Gazing at the work they were about to commence, one of them declared:...

  10. Conclusion: The Meanings of Lynching
    (pp. 123-153)

    One of the first representations of a lynching in American film appears in D. W. Griffith’sBirth of a Nationin 1915. The lynching is performed off-screen, but the body of the lynched man is brought on-screen by the triumphant Klan and left on the steps of the lieutenant governor’s house as a statement for “blacks and carpetbaggers.” The black victim, Gus, is lynched for his desire, cast as an attempted rape, for a white woman named Flora, who leaps to her death rather than succumb to his advances. The lynchers identify Gus as the assailant when they see an...

  11. Epilogue: American Lynching
    (pp. 154-156)

    We can end by returning to the question with which we began this book: How “American” is lynching? It is American insofar as it was a practice that defined “Americans” for those willing to use collective violence against those they would exclude from the terms of citizenship and community. It is American insofar as the most important divisions in American life, divisions over property, race, social class, labor, and gender, have been invoked at various times for various purposes to explain or justify lynching. In particular, it is American insofar as it became a peculiar practice of regulating and controlling...

  12. NOTES
    (pp. 157-190)
    (pp. 191-208)
  14. INDEX
    (pp. 209-212)