Lynching in America: Confronting the Legacy of Racial Terror, a report of the Equal Justice Initiative.
Published online at lynchinginamerica.eji.org/report/, Montgomery, Alabama.
Accessed in July 2017.
This report walks the reader through the events surrounding racial terror lynchings in America, including case studies of individual lynchings and photographs, illustrations, legal reactions, and original source quotations.
I don’t recall how this crossed my path. Normally I prefer to read books in person, whether I purchase, checkout from the library, or borrow from a friend. However, some popular books are easier to get from the library as ebooks and older books that are out of print can often be found online for free.
This book doesn’t fit either of those categories. Instead, this is a report from a team led by Bryan Stevenson, author of Just Mercy. His book’s been on my TBR for a while now (I even had it checked out, but had to return it as there was a hold). After reading this report, Just Mercy got bumped up on my must-reads.
I don’t know the ethnicities of all the members of this team, but can make an educated guess that many of them are #ownvoices. This ebook is very sensitive to the historical viewpoint of African-Americans, and does not shy away from bluntly stating the real purpose lynchings served.
When I was a child, the way we learned about the Reconstruction period was pretty much Lincoln was assassinated, that’s why Reconstruction failed, and then we had the Civil Rights movement to fix it later. As an adult studying Black history, I was amazed to learn about the many African-American Southern political leaders who rose to prominence after the Confederacy, and confused as to how this changed.
Lynching in America answered those questions and more. It fills in the gaps by explaining the major role racial terror lynchings played in the failure of Reconstruction, the Great Migration, and the Civil Rights Movement. Even though it frequently references court cases and political dealings, it also is eminently readable.
I learned a LOT from this report. While I can’t personally speak to the value for a more accomplished student of Black history, since the team did copious original research, I’m going to assume that this report has value for everyone.
One of the biggest parts for me was reading about how the Supreme Court actively worked against Reconstruction and perpetuated racial segregation. Certainly this information was available to me before, but this report drove home the role that each branch of government played.
This report draws on the contemporary reporting work of Ida B. Wells. I was familiar with her mainly from an excellent children’s picture book biography, so this report gave me a lot more information about the lynching aspect of her work and set her reporting within the context of her times. I’m even more in awe of her bravery and tenacity now.
The format was interesting. It’s been a while since I’ve read any books specifically intended for web-only consumption, but I do have experience with this style of book. The pictures and illustrations were very well integrated into the text while still being clear (and having captions and citations, often left out of online publishing). I also enjoyed how quotations were singled out for repetition to help break up the text and the judicious use of bold font to further emphasize key points.
The chapter listing was easily accessible. What was baffling, however, was why the footnotes didn’t utilize hyperlinks. It’s pretty common for online academic articles to use a hyperlink in the footnote that actually takes you to that footnote, and the footnote number to then take you back to that spot in the article. But that was the only real irritation in an otherwise smooth reading experience.
The major theme of the book becomes clear in the final chapter. Lately there has been much discussion about the removal of racist and Confederate monuments from the American landscape. This book argues that there should also be memorials for African-Americans who died through racial terror lynchings and other violence. It makes a cogent argument for the use of plaques and memorials as a healing force, much as the 9-11 monument in New York or the various Holocaust Museums worldwide serve.
Trigger warnings here can be guessed by the title, but be prepared for racist language, acts of extreme violence (including rape, murder, and torture), racial hatred, and photographs of some of these.
Certainly, this report will make both known and new information about the US history of racial terror lynchings readily accessible and available to all, from students to scholars both American and worldwide.
Does this topic interest you? Why not take a read? It’s free!