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Swift to Wrath

Swift to Wrath: Lynching in Global Historical Perspective

William D. Carrigan
Christopher Waldrep
Copyright Date: 2013
Pages: 256
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  • Book Info
    Swift to Wrath
    Book Description:

    Scholarship on lynching has typically been confined to the extralegal execution of African Americans in the American South. The nine essays collected here look at lynching in the context of world history, encouraging a complete rethinking of the history of collective violence. Employing a diverse range of case studies, the volume's contributors work to refute the notion that the various acts of group homicide called "lynching" in American history are unique or exceptional.

    Some essays consider the practice of lynching in a global context, confounding the popular perception that Americans were alone in their behavior and suggesting a wide range of approaches to studying extralegal collective violence. Others reveal the degree to which the practice of lynching has influenced foreigners' perceptions of the United States and asking questions such as, Why have people adopted the term lynching-or avoided it? How has the meaning of the word been transformed over time in society? What contextual factors explain such transformations? Ultimately, the essays illuminate, opening windows on ordinary people's thinking on such critical issues as the role of law in their society and their attitudes toward their own government.

    eISBN: 978-0-8139-3415-0
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. (pp. 1-10)
    William D. Carrigan and Christopher Waldrep

    A funny thing happened to this book on its way to publication. When we began collecting the essays that make up this volume, we had three goals. First, we hoped to encourage scholars to study the spread of the American wordlynchingthroughout the world, analyzing the reasons for its adoption in other nations and the evolution of the word’s meanings in those disparate cultures. We next wanted to refute the popular notion that the various acts of collective violence called lynching in American history are unique or exceptional to the history of the United States, thereby encouraging historians to...

  2. Part 1. The Practice of Lynching:: From the Ancient Middle East to Late Twentieth-Century Northern Ireland

    • (pp. 13-14)

      For this section we have chosen essayists who demonstrate that crowd violence occurs in a variety of geographies and times. Clearly a lot of lynching-like violence has happened in many places, some of it authorized by governments, some of it carried out by government agents, some of it carried out by criminal gangs. But just as clearly governments had a stake in suppressing news of violence they considered anarchic. Utilizing the methods employed by ancient historians to eke out meaning from scant source material, Scott Morschauser traces threads in ancient mob violence, finding, for example, that mobs often made special...

    • (pp. 15-48)
      Scott Morschauser

      For many readers of the Bible, the following passage is most disturbing:

      “Let seven of Saul’s sons be given to us, so that we may hang them up before the Lord.” … And King David gave them into the hands of the Gibeonites, and they hung them on the mountain before the Lord, and the seven of them perished together.¹

      Not only does the act occur with the full approval of David—the sweet singer of psalms and the “beloved” of God—but regardless of the cause, the execution of his royal predecessor’s offspring appears to be nothing less than...

    • (pp. 49-67)
      Brian P. Levack

      Most people think of lynching as a distinctly American crime. The term was coined in the United States in the late eighteenth century, and it usually conjures up images of white mobs hanging African Americans or burning them to death. Certainly the scholarly literature on lynching has had an almost exclusively American focus. There is no reason, however, that the word cannot be used to characterize mob violence against subordinate or marginalized groups in other societies. Over the past fifty years, historians have used the term to describe the unlawful execution of people suspected of witchcraft in Europe during the...

    • (pp. 68-96)
      William D. Carrigan and Clive Webb

      At 11:15 on the morning of Friday, November 16, 1928, four masked men marched into the San Juan County Hospital in Farmington, a remote town in northern New Mexico. The men seized one of the patients, a Spanish-speaking sheepherder of Mexican descent named Rafael Benavides, and bundled him into the back of a pickup truck. Accompanied by a second vehicle carrying six other men, the kidnappers sped to an abandoned farm two miles north of town. There, they forced their victim to stand on the back of one of the trucks as a rope was tied around his neck and...

    • (pp. 97-115)
      Joël Michel

      Lynchingis a genuinely American word that most languages have adopted with a loose meaning. In France, for instance, since the press created a lynching mood around the murder of several children in the 1970s,¹ public figures under attack from the press tend to present themselves as victims of media lynching—as Clarence Thomas did in the 1990s when he complained of “high-tech lynching.” This trend has produced modern formulations that would have baffled the first American users of the word, including “predicted lynching,” “permanent lynching,” and, with the Internet gaining ground on the traditional press, “digital lynching.”

      In France,...

    • (pp. 116-132)
      Rachel Monaghan

      The epigraphs to this chapter are illustrative of the informal justice that is meted out in Northern Ireland by both loyalist and republican paramilitary groups. Such activities are frequently referred to in the literature and the media as informal justice, popular justice, rough justice, vigilantism, paramilitary “punishments,” and the black criminal justice system.¹ According to police statistics from the period between 1973 and the end of March 2010, 3,200 people had received what they term paramilitary-style shootings, and a further 2,562 people had become victims of paramilitary-style assaults between 1982 and the end of March 2010.² Like most crime statistics,...

  3. Part 2. American Lynching and International Meanings:: How the British, Japanese, Russians, and Slovaks Gave Meaning to American Lynching

    • (pp. 135-136)

      Mob violence has a dramatic history stretching far beyond the boundaries of the United States, as the essays in part 1 have documented. The wordlynchinghas its own history as well, one well worth studying, as the word had and has enormous political power. Labeling a violent event alynchingis hardly a neutral act. The rhetorical history of lynching has America at its center. While it seems very unlikely that America exported the notion of mob violence, as other people in other places hardly needed the help of outsiders to form mobs, the word itself is an American...

    • (pp. 137-159)
      Robert Zecker

      The heyday of eastern and southern European emigration from roughly 1880 to 1914 brought around fifteen million people to the United States, with more than 225,000 identified as Slovak. Slovaks primarily were fleeing the poverty of their hilly region of Upper Hungary, but many also resented the official Magyarization policy that relegated them to third-class status in their homeland. Slovaks were familiar with oppression, most notably in the form of laws barring the use of Slovak (and other non-Magyar) languages in public. They also endured occasional official violence, such as soldiers’ 1907 murder in Černova of people protesting the imprisonment...

    • (pp. 160-180)
      Sarah L. Silkey

      As the United States emerged in the nineteenth century as a powerful economic rival to British interests, British politicians and social leaders struggled to determine what significance to attach to the prevalence of lynching in the United States. Rather than representing a specifically defined set of actions,lynchingserved as a flexible rhetorical construct employed to condone or condemn acts of mob violence.¹ Therefore, the malleable and often contested nature of the concept made it possible for British and American social and political leaders to advocate competing definitions oflynchingthroughout the nineteenth century. The moral implications they attached to...

    • (pp. 181-214)
      Fumiko Sakashita

      On January 25, 1942, a mob lynched Cleo Wright, an African American cotton mill worker in Sikeston, Missouri, for rape. Described by antilynching organizations as “the first lynching after Pearl Harbor,” the Sikeston lynching became a new symbol for African Americans’ two-front war—fighting fascism abroad while fighting Jim Crow at home. On February 26, a month after the incident, the Saint Louis and Saint Louis County branches of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) protested the Sikeston lynching with a silent parade. ThePittsburgh Courierreported that the protestors carried several antilynching signs with such...

    • (pp. 215-236)
      Meredith L. Roman

      White American businessmen who visited the Soviet Union in the early 1930s often expressed frustration to U.S. consulate officials in Riga, Latvia, that Soviet citizens associated America with the “lynching” of blacks. One man, for instance, complained that the daughter of a Moscow University professor had asked him, “Don’t you people in the ‘free’ United States of America lynch negroes?”¹ This essay explores why, in the decades between the two World Wars, inhabitants of the Soviet Union became acquainted with the acts of mob violence that Americans called lynching. In interrogating the coverage of American racial violence in the USSR,...