Lynching Data

A later continuation of this analysis is here.

I should be writing the take home portion to my qualifying exam, but I’ve gotten plenty done and I’m too tired to continue. Cruising the internet, I found a website which has compiled a data set of reported lynchings for 10 southern states from 1882-1930. The HAL Project. Project HAL: Historical American Lynching Data Collection Project is from the University of North Carolina Wilmington aims to “accumulate a database of lynchings that took place at any date within the present borders of the United States.”

The database contains information on 2806 lynchings which took place across 10 state from 1882-1930. It includes the name of the victim (when known), sex, offense, date and county in which it occurred. The contents are disturbing.

As can be seen in the above graph, the large majority of lynching victims were of African descent, but a small minority were white persons. Lynching appears to have peaked (assuming that the reporting of the data is robust over time) around the turn of the century and gradually trailed off until the beginning of the Great Depression. Offenses one could be killed for were many. There are 385 different offenses listed but there have to be 50 different categories for murder and 50 more for rape (The data needs serious cleaning). The majority of killings were (claimed to be) for murder, rape and assault related offenses, but there are killings for “insulting a white woman” (more than 30 people died for this offense), “voting Democrat”, “testifying” and “reporting moonshiners”. Mostly, though, one can assume that a good percentage of these people were only guilty of being black and that the local authorities encouraged the reprehensible behavior of it’s citizens. Bossier Parish in Louisiana had the most reported lynchings at 26.

I took the data and merged it with the county codes so that I could open it up in ArcGIS and produced this map:

The darker areas represent areas that saw more lynchings. You can see that there are several counties in southern Alabama and Florida that had little qualms about killing people outside of the law.

I do not have specific demographic data for counties for the southern US from that time period. However, I do have the percentage of population that is African-American today. Assuming that this percentage is a rough estimate of the percentage today, I was able to look at state data and found that, given the portion of the population who actually was African-American at that time, Kentucky and Florida killed more people than any of the other states. In sheer numbers, Mississippi killed the most.

Through simple Kriging, I was able to discover some hotspots of lynching in the southern states. It appears that the most lynching occured along the Mississippi river in the Delta area, near Montgomery, Alabama, and in mid-Florida. The Appalachian areas seem to be the lowest, likely due to there not being a large African-American population there.

All in all, while I applaud the people at UNC for keeping this, I find it deplorable that I have likely walked the planet with people who actively participated in lynchings and people who were silent spectators at these events. These were our grandfathers and grandmothers. In fact, I would not doubt that I have even spoken with someone who was witness to one of these disgusting events. It is my opinion, that life in the US will forever be stained by our dark and bloody history and I would hope that no one is ever allowed to forget this disgusting chapter, which really wasn’t all that far in the past. I wonder how, in a climate of right wing, jingoistic cries of American moral superiority, how one can say this is any different from public executions that occurred under the Taliban regime in Afghanistan, Iran or our happy trading partners in Saudi Arabia . Granted, lynchings are (thankfully) an extremely rare event today, a testament to our progress as a nation and the hard work of those who believe in peace, but there are still cries for it’s return among existing hate groups.

I thought about it today as I was compiling this. In 13 years in Mississippi, I cannot even once remember school sanctioned teaching of the Civil Rights movement and the events which lead up to it. Mostly, we were imbibed with mealy mouthed stories about the oppressive North and nonsense about State’s rights, the evils of General Sherman, etc. In fact, it wasn’t until 2009, that Mississippi officially decided to make teaching of the Civil Rights movement mandatory in public schools, MORE THAN 45 YEARS AFTER THE FACT.

About Pete Larson

Researcher at the University of Michigan Institute for Social Research. Lecturer in the University of Michigan School of Public Health and at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. I do epidemiology, public health, GIS, health disparities and environmental justice. I also do music and weird stuff.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: