Racist Terror, Then and Now: Many Ways to Die

Oppenheimer, Martin

Publisher:  Against the Current
Date Written:  01/09/2015
Year Published:  2015  
Resource Type:  Article
Cx Number:  CX21283

African Americans have been murdered by white mobs, vigilantes, and "law enforcement" from the time of slavery to, quite possibly, this morning.



AFRICAN AMERICANS HAVE been murdered by white mobs, vigilantes, and “law enforcement” from the time of slavery to, quite possibly, this morning.

The fundamental reason for the killing of African-Americans by whites has been fear by many whites of all classes that the existing rules of racial hierarchy, that is, white supremacy, are endangered -- whether by slave uprisings, Blacks threatening white job monopolies, taking political power from whites, moving into white neighborhoods, undermining their monopoly on white women by allegedly having "intimate relations" with them, or simply seeming insubordinate.

In the June 17, 2015 Charleston, South Carolina church shooting, the 21-year-old assassin Dylan Roof apparently melded these fears into one, common among many klansmen and neo-Nazis (an overlapping category) as well as segments of the Republican Party, that the entire white race is in danger of being diminished if not extinguished by racial minorities. This view extends to some anti-immigration groups.

"Lynching," often with the participation or collusion of police and occasionally even the armed forces, resulted in the deaths at minimum of 4,000 Blacks in 12 Southern states from 1877 to 1950, according to the Equal Justice Initiative in Montgomery, Alabama. (New York Times Feb. 10, 2015)

These events include "pogroms" in which whites invaded and destroyed Black neighborhoods as well as "border wars" when whites resist Blacks "invading" so-called "white" areas to integrate housing or to utilize "white" public facilities. [The term "pogrom" is borrowed from the history of anti-Jewish riots in Tsarist Russia - ed.]

Charles M. Blow, in his N.Y. Times Op-Ed column, attacked the sloppy use of the term "lynch mobs" by politicians and others who have compared protesters against police killings to "lynch mobs." Recall that during the confirmation hearings on the nomination of Clarence Thomas for the U.S. Supreme Court, he termed the charges of sexual harassment made against him an attempted "legal lynching."

Blow, in trying to overcome this dishonesty, cites a recent historical survey of actual (not metaphorical) "lynchings" stating that 4,743 persons including not a few whites (and probably some Native Americans and Asians) were “lynched” between 1882 and 1968. (N.Y. Times April 27, 2015)

Defining Lynching?

But what exactly qualifies as a "lynching"? These studies, where the numbers run to more than 4,000, are both based on a rather legalistic definition: "There must be legal evidence that a person was killed. That person must have met death illegally. A group of three or more persons must have participated in the killing. The group must have acted under the pretext of service to justice, race or tradition."

There are several problems with this. Three or more is an arbitrary number, and of course three people are hardly a "mob." The definition excludes many racist murders committed by one or two persons, as in the case of 14-year-old Emmett Till, murdered in Mississippi in 1955 after a woman accused Till of whistling at her. Her husband and a friend kidnapped him, shot him, and dumped his body in the Tallahatchie River.

What of Herbert Lee, an NAACP activist shot to death by a Mississippi state legislator acting alone, in 1961? Dylan Roof, the Charleston church shooter also seemingly acted as a "lone-wolf." There have been countless others.

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