It’s been revealed in a new document from the Equal Justice Initiative that during the Jim Crow South era 4,000 Black people were lynched. Nearly every name was written as a part of the research file, as another 700 more of other racial backgrounds were included in this huge blemish of American history.
The numbers are a part of EJI’s in-depth piece Lynching In America: Confronting the Legacy of Racial Terror. The approximate number of lynchings are 3,959, from 1877 to 1950. Georgia executed the most people with a whopping number of 586. Mississippi is second with 576. Louisiana is third with 540. An even more specific, and shocking, detail EJI discovered was that in Florida, their lynching rate was the highest “per capita (meaning on average) with 0.594 Black residents being lynched annually per 100,000.”
Like our history classes taught us, a majority of the “reasons” behind lynchings were for mainly innocuous incidents, like a Black person bumping into a White person, or controversial, hearsay gossip of sexual relationships. An example of this is that in 1940, Jesse Thornton was lynched for “forgetting” to say “Mister” while talking to a White cop in Alabama. The victims were targeted solely because they were racially different, but also sometimes based on religious matters.
As EJI founder Bryan Stevenson shared with Reuters, the purpose behind the lynching report wasn’t because of the terrorist act re-occurring in America, but because “what happened then has its echoes in today’s headlines.” We know that Stevenson is referring to last year’s slew of unarmed Black men and women who were killed, many at the hands of White cops. He also stated that “The South is littered with monuments for the Civil War. But we haven’t looked at the great evil of slavery. Its aftermath morphed into terrorism of lynching. We as Americans haven’t dealt with our full history.”
Those who performed the lynchings were almost never prosecuted for their hate crimes and EJI wants what they have called a “racial terror” back on America’s conscience. Stevenson is also hoping to have former lynching sites commemorated as memorials for the lost lives, though The New York Times reported that this has been met with some resistance from residents. Rosewood, Florida is one of very few states to have a memorial placed at a former site.
America has had its strides in the decades since Jim Crow, but it’s important studies like these that are still hard to acknowledge. America has been praised for by citizens and immigrants alike for being the land of opportunity, but it’s also been the backdrop of so much pain and hurt for generations. We greatly commend EJI for seeking to spark the conversation and how a now-extinct practice correlates to the injustice we’re still witnessing today.