History of Lynchings


Throughout the late 19th century racial tension grew throughout the United States.  More of this tension was noticeable in the Southern parts of the United States.  In the south, people were blaming their financial problems on the newly freed slaves that lived around them.  Lynchings were becoming a popular way of resolving some of the anger that whites had in relation to the free blacks.

From 1882-1968, 4,743 lynchings occurred in the United States.  Of these people that were lynched 3,446 were black.  The blacks lynched accounted for 72.7% of the people lynched.  These numbers seem large, but it is known that not all of the lynchings were ever recorded.  Out of the 4,743 people lynched only 1,297 white people were lynched.  That is only 27.3%.  Many of the whites lynched were lynched for helping the black or being anti lynching and even for domestic crimes.

Was lynching necessary?  To many people it was not, but to the whites in the late 19th century it served a purpose.  Whites started lynching because they felt it was necessary to protect white women.  Rape though was not a great factor in reasoning behind the lynching.  It was the third greatest cause of lynchings behind homicides and ‘all other causes’.

Most of the lynchings that took place happened in the South.  A big reason for this was the end of the Civil War.  Once black were given their freedom, many people felt that the freed blacks were getting away with too much freedom and felt they needed to be controlled.  Mississippi had the highest lynchings from 1882-1968 with 581.  Georgia was second with 531, and Texas was third with 493.  79% of lynching happened in the South.

Of the lynching that did not take place in the South, mainly in the West, were normally lynchings of whites, not blacks.  Most of the lynching in the West came from the lynching of either murders or cattle thief’s.  There really was no political link to the lynching of blacks in the South, and whites in the West.

Not all states did lynch people.  Some states did not lynch a white or a black person.  Alaska, Rhode Island, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, and Connecticut were these few states that had no lynchings between 1882-1968.

Although some states did have lynchings, some of them did not lynch any blacks.  Arizona, Idaho, Maine, Nevada, South Dakota, Vermont, and Wisconsin were some states that did not lynch any blacks to record.

Quite a few states did in fact lynch more white people than black.  In the West these greater number of white lynchings was due to political reasons not racial reasons.  California, Colorado, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Michigan, Minnesota, Montana, Nebraska, New Mexico, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Oregon, Utah, Washington, and Wyoming lynched more whites than blacks.

It’s sad to think that we look at other countries and deem them immoral for killing their own people, but we over look the fact of what happened in the late 1890’s  to the late 1960’s.  This is something that we cannot over look and do not need to try to over look it.


MAY 19, 1918

Walter White was sent by the NAACP to investigate lynchings in Brooks- Lowndes County, Georgia. The lynching of Mary Turner was one of the investigations.

Abusive plantation owner, Hampton Smith, was shot and killed. A week long manhunt resulted in the killing of the husband of Mary Turner, Hayes Turner.

Mary Turner denied that her husband had been involved in Smith’s killing, publicly opposed her husband’s murder, and threatened to have members of the mob arrested.

On May 19th, a mob of several hundred brought her to Folsom Bridge which separates Brooks and Lowndes counties in Georgia. The mob  tied her ankles, hung her upside down from a tree, doused her in gasoline and motor oil and set her on fire.

Turner was still alive when a member of the mob split her abdomen open with a knife and her unborn child fell on the ground. The baby was was stomped  and crushed as it fell to the ground. Turner’s body was riddled with hundreds of bullets.



Walter White, The Crisis, May 1918

(Of fair skin and with straight hair, Walter White, assistant secretary for the NAACP, used his appearance to increase his effectiveness in conducting investigations of lynchings and race riots in the South. He could “pass” and talk to whites, but identified as Black and could talk to members of the African  American community. Through 1927 White would investigate 41 lynchings.)

Jesse McIlherron was prosperous in a small way. He was a Negro who resented the slights and insults of white men. He went armed and the sheriff feared him. On February 8, he got into a quarrel with three young white men who insulted him. Threats were made and McIlherron fired six shots, killing two of the men.

He fled to the home of a colored clergyman who aided him to escape, and was afterwards shot and killed by a mob. McIlherron was captured and full arrangements were made for a lynching. Men, women and children started into the town of Estill Springs from a radious of fifty miles. A spot was chosen for the burning. McIlherron was chained to a hickory tree while the mob howled about him. A fire was built a few feet away and the torture began. Bars of iron were heated and the mob amused itself by putting them close to the victim, at first without touching him. One bar he grasped and as it was jerked from his grasp all the inside of his hand came with it. Then the real torturing began, lasting twenty minutes.

During that time, while his flesh was slowly roasting, the Negro never lost nerve. He cursed those who tortured him and almost to the last breath derided the attempts of the mob to break his spirit.

The CRISIS Magazine Lynching Articles