Lynching in America: A History in Documents

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Whether conveyed through newspapers, photographs, or Billie Holliday’s haunting song “Strange Fruit,” lynching has immediate and graphic connotations for all who hear the word. Images of lynching are generally unambiguous: black victims hanging from trees, often surrounded by gawking white mobs. While this picture of lynching tells a distressingly familiar story about mob violence in America, it is not the full story. Lynching in America presents the most comprehensive portrait of lynching to date, demonstrating that while lynching has always been present in American society, it has been anything but one-dimensional.

Ranging from personal correspondence to courtroom transcripts to journalistic accounts, Christopher Waldrep has extensively mined an enormous quantity of documents about lynching, which he arranges chronologically with concise introductions. He reveals that lynching has been part of American history since the Revolution, but its victims, perpetrators, causes, and environments have changed over time. From the American Revolution to the expansion of the western frontier, Waldrep shows how communities defended lynching as a way to maintain law and order. Slavery, the Civil War, and especially Reconstruction marked the ascendancy of racialized lynching in the nineteenth century, which has continued to the present day, with the murder of James Byrd in Jasper, Texas, and Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas’s contention that he was lynched by Congress at his confirmation hearings.

Since its founding, lynching has permeated American social, political, and cultural life, and no other book documents American lynching with historical texts offering firsthand accounts of lynchings, explanations, excuses, and criticism.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
“;Christopher Waldrep’s heart-wrenching but compelling documentary collection on American lynching traditions could not appear at a more fitting time. In Waldrep’s carefully selected documents, we are forced to confront the grim record of American racial violence. The testimony given by blacks themselves in public hearings and in African-American newspapers proves to be especially dramatic and horrifying. Lynching in America should be read not just by historians, who so long neglected the topic. Rather, all those concerned to promote our better natures could benefit from pondering these past atrocities so skillfully laid before us.”
-Bertram Wyatt-Brown,author of Southern Honor: Ethics and Behavior in the Old South

“;Christopher Waldrep has examined in depth a history we prefer to ignore-a not so distant time when Americans descended into vigilante justice and public displays of ritualistic murder, often targeting people of color. The testimony gathered for this collection is a sobering reminder that terrorism has deep roots in our own soil, that it is part of our history, part of our heritage.”
-Leon Litwack,author of Been in the Storm So Long: The Aftermath of Slavery

“A distinct work.”
-Choice, Recommended

“Christopher Waldrep’s volume should quickly become one of a handful of standard reference works on the subject of lynching. His knowledge of the literature on lynching is masterful and far ranging. Lynching in America is an important book.”
-Thomas H. Appleton, Jr.,Eastern Kentucky University

“An exemplar documentary history....While lynching might seem to be a tarnished relic of an unfortunate earlier part of history, Waldreps sobering texts remind us of the timelessness of unrestrained power of community-based extra-legal violence.”
-Louisiana History

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780814793985
  • Publisher: New York University Press
  • Publication date: 1/1/2006
  • Pages: 281
  • Product dimensions: 6.90 (w) x 10.10 (h) x 1.00 (d)

Meet the Author

Christopher Waldrep is Jamie and Phyllis Pasker Professor of History, San Francisco State University. He is the author of Night Riders: Defending Community in the Black Patch: 1890-1915, Roots of Disorder: Race and Criminal Justice in the American South, 1817-1880, and The Many Faces of Judge Lynch: Extralegal Violence and Punishment in America.

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Table of Contents

Introduction: Explanations
1. The First Lynchers
2. Jacksonian America
3. Slavery
4. How the West Was Won
5. Civil War and Reconstruction
6. The Gilded Age: Shall the Wheel of Race Agitation Be Stopped?
7. State Sovereignty and Mob Law
8. Western Lynching in an Industrializing Age
9. The Limits of Progressive Reform
10. Federal Law against Mob Law
11. The New Deal
About the Editor

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