- Shopping Bag ( 0 items )
From Barnes & NobleThe Barnes & Noble Review
Readers of Philip Dray's powerful book should prepare for disbelief at the barbarism of the lynchers, anguish over the lynched, and pride in the courage of those who fought "America's shame." Dray goes beyond recording crimes that were "justified" by distorted notions of "honor" and fear of "nigger risings"; he illustrates that lynching was a culture. As such, it was supported by manipulation of the law, collusion between local authorities and rabid segregationists, and by the failure of Congress and the federal courts to act positively to protect black citizens' basic rights.
Lynching (named after Charles Lynch, a justice in rural Virginia) began in the 1770s as a citizens' punish-them-yourself response to local criminals and political opponents. Institutionalized in the South in the late 1860s as a weapon against emancipation and Reconstruction, lynching became the means of killing any African American whose status, actions, or attitudes challenged white supremacy. Dray fully captures the depravity of lynching, which usually entailed torture and castration, followed by burning the victim alive before an applauding crowd.
In chronicling those who fought -- at great personal risk -- for effective laws against lynching (Ida Wells, W.E.B. Du Bois, James Weldon Johnson, Walter White, and A. Philip Randolph, among others) and in detailing investigations, reporting, and provision of legal representation, Dray presents a compelling record. He gives valuable accounts of Theodore Roosevelt's, Woodrow Wilson's, and FDR's self-protective foot-dragging on proposed federal action. Only under Presidents Truman, Kennedy, and Johnson -- and the pressure of strong public support -- did the U.S. government take real action to end lynching and the criminal culture that fueled it.
This poignant book is necessary reading -- and a needed reminder that hatred and evil do not always come from beyond America's borders. (Peter Skinner)
Peter Skinner lives in New York City.