New report says 164 lynched in Jim Crow S.C.

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Image from a 1920 lynching in Texas, via Wikimedia Commons.

Image from a 1920 lynching in Texas, via Wikimedia Commons.

A new report about lynching across 12 states of the South between Reconstruction and World War II says some 700 more African American men, women and children were lynched than previously documented. All totaled, a multi-year investigation by the Equal Justice documented 3,959 “racial terror lynchings” between 1877 and 1950.

15.0213.lynching_vectorDuring that period, the Lynching in America report said South Carolina had 164 lynchings in 36 counties, as highlighted by the map at the right. There were no lynchings in 10 of the state’s counties during the Jim Crow era that followed slavery.

According to the Equal Justice Initiative (see report summary here):

“Lynching in America makes the case that lynching of African Americans was terrorism, a widely supported phenomenon used to enforce racial subordination and segregation. Lynchings were violent and public events that traumatized black people throughout the country and were largely tolerated by state and federal officials.

“This was not “frontier justice” carried out by a few marginalized vigilantes or extremists. Instead, many African Americans who were never accused of any crime were tortured and murdered in front of picnicking spectators (including elected officials and prominent citizens) for bumping into a white person, or wearing their military uniforms after World War I, or not using the appropriate title when addressing a white person.

“People who participated in lynchings were celebrated and acted with impunity. Not a single white person was convicted of murder for lynching a black person in America during this period.”

According to the findings of the report:

  • Numbers about lynchings. Florida, Mississippi and Arkansas had the highest statewide rates of lynchings between 1880 and 1940 with one person lynched per 200,000 people. Georgia (586 people), Mississippi (576) and Louisiana (540) had the highest number of lynchings. and Mississippi had the highest numbers of people lynched. South Carolina ranked in the bottom third with 164 lynchings, but had more than Kentucky (154), North Carolina (102) and Virginia (76).
  • Tool. Lynchings were a “racial terror tool” used to control and victimize blacks and to enforce segregation and Jim Crow laws.
  • Migration. Lynchings played a key role in “The Great Migration,” in which Southern blacks fled the region for the North and West.
  • Capital punishment. “The decline of lynching in the studied states relied heavily on the increased use of capital punishment imposed by court order following an often accelerated trial.”

While not mentioned in the summary, the EJI findings on the final point are relevant today for South Carolina. In December, a state circuit judge vacated the 1944 murder conviction of George Stinney, Jr., the 14-year-old Clarendon County boy who was executed less than three months after two murders. More detail.

A Wednesday editorial in The New York Times observed that the EJI report shows the nation’s history of lynching “needs to be properly commemorated and more widely discussed before teh United States can fully understand the causes and origins of the racial injustice that hobbles the country to this day.”

South Carolina’s last lynching

The last lynching in South Carolina was in 1947 after a white cab driver was found dead beside his cab in Pickens County. Willie Earle, a young black man, was thought to be his last passenger and was arrested on robbery and assault charges. He was held in the Pickens County Jail, but a white mob forced a jailer to give him up.

They drove him to Greenville, lynched him and left. Earle died later that day. According to a historic marker in Greenville County, 31 men and women were put on trial and despite 26 men admitted being part of the mob. an all-white jury acquitted all defendants.

“Outrage led to new federal civil rights policies,” the marker said. In South Carolina , a 28-year-old state representative crafted a tough anti-lynching bill that was signed into law. The author: now retired U.S. Sen. Fritz Hollings of Isle of Palms.


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