The lynching of African Americans in the later 19th century continued on through the middle of the 20th century. Lynching as a phenomenon of crowd behavior will be examined in the context of African American history, and it will be shown that lynching was, in large measure, a means of social control as much as an abberation of human behavior.
Lynching of African Americans in the United States for real or imagined offenses continued in the 20th century, often with little or no opposition from formal agencies of control--police, courts, and other public officials. Although lynch mobs are uncommon today, occasional instances of mob behavior take place over issues such as busing or housing, during political conventions and rallies, and among student or labor groups angry about perceived injustices.
The term "lynching" is derived from the activities of Charles Lynch, a Virginia colonist who attempted to maintain law and order before the establishment of formal courts. As applied in the 19th and 20th centuries, however, the word meant terrorism and murder outside the legal system. A term associated with law and order could easily be appropriated by those who would seek to rationalize their own heinous devices.
The Ku Klux Klan, founded in Tennessee in 1866, was only one of a number of organizations which mushroomed forth as a reaction to the increasing "leniency" afforded African Americans in the aftermath of the Civil War. During the Reconstruction period in the aftermath of the Civil War, when African Americans were starting to have some success at staking their rightful places in the legislature, some southern whites grew increasingly resentful. A rise in the "invisible empire" of the Klan resulted.
Those stubborn African Americans who persisted in their "upstart ways" were routinely flogged, mutilated, or even murdered, frequently by lynching. As Bailey points out, "In one Louisiana parish in 1868, the whites in t...