(NNPA) – Almost 4,000 Blacks—about 700 more than previously reported—were lynched in 12 Southern states during the period between Reconstruction and World War II, according to a new report by the Equal Justice Initiative.
“Lynching in America: Confronting the Legacy of Racial Terror” is the result of five years of research and 160 visits to sites across the South. The report makes the argument that these killings were a form of racial terrorism aimed at subjugating the Black community and maintaining Jim Crow segregation.
“We’re focusing on lynchings of African-Americans because when Whites were lynched it was really more about punishment—it wasn’t sent to terrorize the White community, it was intended to actually make the White community feel safe,” said Bryan Stevenson, director of the Alabama-based nonprofit in an interview with National Public Radio. “The lynching of African-Americans, on the other hand, was really a direct message to the entire African-American community—it was designed to traumatize and terrorize.”
To put in a modern-day context, the number of Blacks who were beaten, burned and ultimately hung while picnicking Whites cheered, is more than twice the number of Americans who died in the terrorist attacks on 9/11, more than twice those who died in the anti-terror campaign in Afghanistan and comparable to the number who died in Iraq.
And these acts of terror against Blacks were often state-sanctioned killings, Mr. Stevenson added.
“In most of the places where these lynchings took place—in fact in all of them—there was a functioning criminal justice system that was deemed too good for African-Americans,” he said. “Often these men were pulled from jails and pulled out of courthouses, where they could be lynched literally on the courthouse lawn.”
The inequalities reinforced by lynching has left its mark on the Black community and on public policy as seen in policies of mass incarceration, racially biased capital punishment, excessive or disproportionate sentencing of racial minorities, and police abuse of people of color, the report concluded.
“We cannot heal the deep wounds inflicted during the era of racial terrorism until we tell the truth about it,” Mr. Stevenson said in a separate statement. “The geographic, political, economic, and social consequences of decades of terror lynchings can still be seen in many communities today and the damage created by lynching needs to be confronted and discussed. Only then can we meaningfully address the contemporary problems that are lynching’s legacy.