During the introduction of this text, the author discusses how lynching was a southern obsession and that it became a manifestation of a campaign to impose racial hierarchy. Unlike other forms of punishment available during this time, lynching was more visible and drew in large crowds of people, including mobs. These mobs were often violent and this violence became another characteristic feature of race relations in the South. I thought that it was interesting how once slavery was dismantled, it left a “void in the enforcement of white supremacy” (p. 6). Because of that void, individuals turned to mob violence and lynching. This action and violence would maintain the caste system in the South as the reasons behind them were local and specific to the area. I also found it interesting, throughout this reading, how the author discussed the Republican party’s commitment to protecting African Americans in the 1870s. I am curious as to when the political parties flipped to where now the Democratic party seems to be the one doing the protecting.
The next section on the geography of lynching in Virginia was very eye-opening and interesting to me. I was not aware of lynching happening as many times as it did. But I did not find it surprising that there was a smaller number of lynchings in comparison to other southern states. Virginia saw an evolution within the economy, which still created racial frictions, but “Virginians believed that racial boundaries could be maintained without the need to resort to persistent violence” (p. 141). From 1880-1930, there were 28 lynchings across the state. The 1890s also saw a new industrial order with a shift from self-sufficiency to dependency. Because of this shift and new industrials areas, the author discussed how evidence suggests that there was a growing racial harmony between races in many industrial communities. This was not the same for cosmopolitan towns in southwestern Virginia as there was much broader support of lynchings in these areas. I found it interesting that there was mob violence and lynching only occurred in major cities as Eastern VA, the Tidewater area, the Southside, or Piedmont did not have any extralegal violence that was prevalent. The lynching that did occur, the author noted, tended to take place due to sexual assault.
In the last section about the response to lynching, the author explained how the reasoning to lynch rested on social and societies foundations of race, crime, and sexuality. It was moved that legal action had to be taken by the state or local authorities, which many then became committed to the law and order of the state. During this time, many turned to newspapers which influenced what people were reading about and then how people were reacting to lynchings. But even still, mob violence was posing a serious challenge on the social order of the state. The author discussed Governor O’Ferralls actions and his campaign against mob violence. This period of time saw a decrease in lynchings and he had left a legacy to stop this form of violence. By 1900, there was a widespread sentiment that governors had to assume a large responsibility in the prevention of lynching. Apart from governors, local chapters of the NAACP also had a major influence and worked to prosecute those involved in mob violence. Before then local authorities had utilized state militias, but now justice was coming from the courts. Twenty-eight years later in 1928, the state passed an anti-lynching law.
I thought that this was a very interesting and eye-opening read. We learn about lynchings in high school history class, but I think that there is a misconception on that this kind of violence stopped with the Emancipation Proclamation, which was not the case. I think that it is important to understand that this was a form of violence that was still taking place, and is still happening in some states.