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A Deed So Accursed

A Deed So Accursed: Lynching in Mississippi and South Carolina, 1881–1940

Terence Finnegan
Copyright Date: 2013
Pages: 248
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  • Book Info
    A Deed So Accursed
    Book Description:

    From the end of Reconstruction to the onset of the civil rights era, lynching was prevalent in developing and frontier regions that had a dynamic and fluid African American population. Focusing on Mississippi and South Carolina because of the high proportion of African Americans in each state during "the age of lynching," Terence Finnegan explains lynching as a consequence of the revolution in social relations-assertiveness, competition, and tension-that resulted from emancipation. A comprehensive study of lynching in Mississippi and South Carolina, A Deed So Accursed reveals the economic and social circumstances that spawned lynching and explores the interplay between extralegal violence and political and civil rights.

    Finnegan's research shows that lynching rates depended on factors other than caste conflict and the interaction of race and southern notions of honor. Although lynching supported the ends of white supremacy, many mobs lynched more for private retaliation than for communal motives, which explains why mobs varied greatly in size, organization, behavior, and purpose.

    The resistance of African Americans was vigorous and sustained and took on a variety of forms, but depending on the circumstances, black resistance could sometimes provoke rather than deter lynching. Ultimately, Finnegan shows how out of the tragedy of lynching came the triumph of the civil rights movement, which was built upon the organizational efforts of African American anti-lynching campaigns.

    eISBN: 978-0-8139-3385-6
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
    (pp. ix-xii)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 1-12)

    At Gettysburg, Abraham Lincoln expressed hope that the unprecedented bloodshed of the Civil War would result in a “new birth of freedom” for the American nation, but in the aftermath of the war, white and black southerners engaged in a relentless cycle of violence over whether or not African Americans would be accorded the full benefits of citizenship. Reactionary whites violently ended the experiment of Reconstruction in order to restore their political and social hegemony, but racial conflict intensified, and the abomination of lynching became so widespread that prescient African American reformers wondered if southern society could endure much longer....

  5. 1 “Strictly a White Man’s Country, with a White Man’s Civilization”: LYNCHING IN MISSISSIPPI
    (pp. 13-34)

    On the afternoon of 26 June 1919, several thousand Mississippians from around Ellisville in Jones County watched eagerly as a mob hanged John Hartfield from a tree near the same spot where Hartfield allegedly had raped a white telegraph operator a week and a half earlier. Although Hartfield had been mortally wounded during an intensive, ten-day manhunt, a mob hanged him and then inflicted further vengeance on his corpse, which was mutilated with gunshots and burned. After the ghoulish spectacle concluded, onlookers retrieved “souvenirs” from Hartfield’s charred remains.¹ After the lynching, a story circulated among whites that Hartfield had been...

  6. 2 “To Hell with the Constitution”: LYNCHING IN SOUTH CAROLINA
    (pp. 35-57)

    At the 1912 meeting of the National Governors Association, South Carolina governor Coleman Blease stridently informed his esteemed colleagues that nothing could come between him and the “protection of the white women of South Carolina.” “To h[ell] with the Constitution,” Blease bellowed, “if it stands in the way of me and … the defence of the virtue of white women of my State.” Blease’s defiant defense of lynching did not stem from a concern about menacing black rapists, however, but arose from an exchange that Blease had with Wyoming governor Joseph Carey about state marriage laws and black heavyweight champion...

  7. 3 “No Rights for the Negro Which a White Man Is Bound to Respect”: LYNCHING AND POLITICAL POWER IN MISSISSIPPI AND SOUTH CAROLINA
    (pp. 58-101)

    The desire among some southern whites to invalidate the effects of emancipation and the enfranchisement of black males contributed to an onslaught of terroristic violence that manifested itself in lynching and other forms of repression and coercion. Whites attempted to dehumanize African Americans so that they could rationalize the apparent need to lynch allegedly depraved black criminals and exclude blacks from the body politic. The emergence of black fiends, who preyed purportedly on the innocent and defenseless, confirmed in the minds of many whites that blacks should never again be allowed unfettered access to political power.

    Prior to disfranchisement, whites...

  8. 4 “The Equal of Some White Men and the Superior of Others”: AFRICAN AMERICAN VICTIMS OF LYNCHING
    (pp. 102-143)

    African American resistance to racial oppression resulted in lynching becoming an integral feature of the southern caste system. In the predominantly rural states of Mississippi and South Carolina, landlord-tenant relations were rife with racial conflict; hence, the majority of African American lynching victims were agricultural workers who refused to acquiesce to white domination. African American farmworkers regularly challenged the actions of whites who oppressed them. When a black person got the better of a dispute with a white superior, whites sometimes responded with lynching in the hope of discouraging future affronts to white supremacy. The itinerant, isolated, and unsavory working...

    (pp. 144-185)

    The size, purpose, and nature of lynch mobs varied across time and space. During the first phase of the lynching epidemic, white-only mobs avoided directing their fury against the African American community as a whole, and some African Americans participated in lynch mobs that were punitive in purpose. Black mobs generated anxiety among whites, however, who found the prospect of African Americans inflicting extralegal vengeance disquieting. As lynching became racialized, larger mobs became more frequent and African Americans abandoned the practice. Large mobs often formed where the perceived depredations of rootless black laborers generated anxiety among whites, who worried about...

  10. Conclusion
    (pp. 186-190)

    In January 1938, as the lynching era drew to a close, the U.S. Senate debated a federal antilynching bill that would have given federal courts jurisdiction in lynchings that were committed by three or more people. At the time, the senior senator from Mississippi was Pat Harrison, a former prosecutor from Gulfport who first had been elected to Congress with the support of James Vardaman’s allies. Harrison became an ardent ally of Woodrow Wilson, however, and was considered a moderate during the Roosevelt era. A key supporter of the New Deal, Harrison fell out of favor with President Roosevelt because...

  11. NOTES
    (pp. 191-224)
  12. INDEX
    (pp. 225-232)
  13. Back Matter
    (pp. 233-234)