Introduce the concept of lynching. Make sure students know what it is. Ask them what kinds of forms it takes on (hanging, shooting, burning, beating, etc). Analyze the chart together. What states had the most lynching? Look at the white/black comparison and try to explain why more blacks in the south would be lynched. You can discuss the stereotype of the Southern woman as pure and moral-always threatened by the savage black man. Southerners believe lynching was one of the ways in which they could protect their women from rape and murder.
Frank Embree was forced to pose for pictures before he was hung. Looking closely at the photo on the left, you can see a man in the lower right corner with a soft brim hat…he is holding the whip. A coarse blanket rests on the buggy seat behind him. This is the blanket they put around his naked body during the lynching.
Usually an angry mob would remove the accused from the jail where they were being held. Often times the victim was being held for questioning and in some cases it became clear that they were innocent after the lynching took place. In other instances, it may have been probable that the victim committed a crime but was still denied a trial.
The lynching of Laura Nelson and her son. Her son was accused of shooting Deputy Loney while his posse searched their cabin for stolen meat. Laura claimed she shot Loney, trying to protect her son. They were both hung up from this bridge by a lynch mob, Oklahoma 1911.
The summer of 1919 was named the “red summer” for the rash of deadly riots that erupted in more than 25 US cities. Racial tensions were at a high in Omaha, as seen here by the lynching of William Brown. Brown had been accused of molesting a white girl. A mob quickly formed and burned down the jailhouse, seizing Brown. They hung him from a lamppost, mutilated his body and riddled it with bullets before burning him. At one point the Mayor tried to calm the angry mob and they seized him, hung him from a trolley pole and nearly killed him before the police were able to cut him down.
Students can take time to observe photo and share what they discover. Mostly boys, two adult men. The black man has nice clothing on. The victim’s right hand is bandaged and figures appear to have been amputated. There is a light that might be a fire or a car. The boy’s dress and the clothes of the two adult men suggest a school.
Woods was a miner who was reported to have shot and killed Herschel Deaton, a foreman at the Elkshorn Company Mine for refusing him a ride in his car. A mob of five hundred attacked the jail and took Woods to the state line and tied him to the speaking platform that had been erected to celebrate a new road through the mountains. He was shot with more than a hundred bullets from pistols and high powered rifles, and then his clothing was set on fire.
Many times lynching drew a large crowd of people, either as participants or as spectators. In this case, thousands of Indianans carrying picks, bats, ax handles, crowbars, torches, and firearms attacked the Grant County Courthouse, determined to “ get those goddamn Niggers”. The two men hanging, Thomas Shipp and Abram Smith, here were beaten and mutilated to death before they were hung up. The two girls in the front of the picture are holding a piece of dark cloth-a souvenir from the pants of the right hand victim, Abram Smith. Later, they hung a KKK robe around his lower half. The man with the Hitler mustache, pointing to the body, has a picture of an Indian woman tattooed to his inner arm. Historians and researchers tried to identify him later, not to prosecute but to get a better understanding of the factors that produced such violence.
Southern political and economic interests could be damaged by public exposure to lynching. Postcards were part of this exposure and the author of this card documents one of the earliest attempts to make them illegal. This inscription is dated just a few months after the 1908 law that forbid them.
“This photo most closely matches the written accounts of a man falsely accused of having assaulted a Mrs. Fountain and murdering her son at their store.” Ask students about the “warning” of a charred body, hung up for all to see. Have them image the fear this display would put onto the African American community.
Washington was a mentally retarded seventeen year old boy. On May 8, 1916, a white woman named Lucy Fryer was murdered and Washington, a laborer on her farm, confessed to the killing. The jury deliberated for four minutes and the guilty verdict was read to shouts of “Get that Nigger!” Washington was beaten with shovels and bricks and taken to the public square where 15,000 men, women, and children had gathered. He was castrated and his ears were cut off before he was hung from a tree by an iron chair, a large fire burning beneath him. Wailing, the boy tried to climb the hot iron chain that held him but for this the men cut off his fingers. “The executioners repeatedly lowered the boy into the flames and hoisted him out again. With each repetition, a mighty shout was raised”. Washington’s charred body was taken on a parade through Waco and seven miles away to Robinson, where many blacks lived. Lynchers often displayed their victim’s body as a warning to other blacks. Eventually his body was hung for public display outside a blacksmith shop (top left picture)…the sender of this postcard marked his own appearance with a cross but now all that remains is a ink smudge in the lower left of the photo.
Military orders were wired from Austin that requested the protection of Lige Daniels from the threat of mob violence. Capt. Bridges excuse for failing to follow those orders was the inability to “find any members of his company in time for mobilization.” One thousand men battered down the steel doors of the jailhouse and hung Daniels off a courthouse oak tree. What is more disturbing here, the lynched body or the young boys (one is smiling) in the front?
Lynching postcards were very popular. In the top photo, the sender marked a small X above Hustler’s Arch-a well lit landmark in downtown Cairo. He marked a corresponding X in the upper left and wrote “where they hung the coon”. The bottom image was taken just after the rope broke and James’ body fell onto the street. He was eventually burned and his half-burned head was displayed on a stake.
Four souvenir images of the lynching of Jack Holmes and Thomas Thurmond, San Jose, California, Nov. 1933 Lower right: jail photo of Jack Holmes, one of the killers of a 22 year old Santa Clara University graduate and son of wealthy San Jose family, Brooke Hart. This portrait was taken just before lynching by 15,000 vigilantes. Lower left: Lynch mob breaking down the jail house door with battering ram. Upper left: Thomas Thurmond, co-conspirator with Holmes, strung from a tree in park across from jail. Upper right: postcard backing with message from Gov. James Rolph: “While the law should have been permitted to take its course, the people by their action have given notice to the entire world that in California kidnaping will not be tolerated”.
Between 1882 and 1930, almost three thousand blacks in ten Southern states were lynched. Despite the high numbers and clear problems with racial injustice, the federal government never passed an anti-lynching law. Starting in the early 1920s and ending in the late 30s, the NAACP and other groups tried desperately to get a federal bill to pass. In the next lesson, students will explore the reasons for their failures by examining both racial and constitutional issues. To end slide show, you can ask students why lynching died out in the 40s and 50s. How was the US different after WWII and how did the NAACP change its tactics from anti-lynching to the civil rights movement?
Lynching In America: 1880s-1930s Whitney Foehl Photos and notes taken from: Allen, James. Als, Hilton. Lewis, John. Litwack, Leon. Without Sanctuary: Lynching Photography in America. Twin Palms Publishing, 2000.
Lynching: The murder of any US citizen by a mob of three or more.
Whipping, beating, and other forms of torture were sometimes initiated before the actual hanging took place. The lynching of Frank Embree Missouri 1899
Location Unknown, Circa 1920 Looking at the photo, what observations and guesses can you make about this event?
Corpse of Leonard Woods on speaking platform, white mob. November 29, 1927 Pound Gap, Kentucky
Why would people buy and send postcards of lynching? Eventually the US postal service ban the mailing of lynching postcards. “ I bought this in Hopkinsville. 15 cents each. They are not on sale openly. I forgot to send it until just now, I ran across it. I read an account of the night riders affairs where it says these men were hung without any apparent cause or reason whatsoever. A law was passed forbidding these to be sent thru the mail or to be sold anymore.
On back of photo: “ Warning The answer of the Anglo-Saxon race to black brutes who would attack the womanhood of the South-” Georgia 1902 Unidentified African American male Charred torso
Lynching of Jesse Washington Waco, Texas May 16, 1916 Crowd of 15,000 gathered for the lynching Body on public display-Robinson, Texas
The lynching of Lige Daniels. Postcard, front and back Center, Texas 1920
Top view: Commercial Ave. Cairo, Illinois Bottom view: The lynching of Will James