A horrifying thematic map documenting the prevalence of lynching throughout the United States, from a 1931 report by the Southern Commission on the Study of Lynching.
Using as its base a simple outline map of the United States by county, the map uses black dots to identify each location of a documented lynching between 1900-1931. It is important to note that here the term “lynching” is used in its broad sense of extra-judicial murder, usually carried out by a large group, to address real or imagined crimes, usually rape or murder. Though its most common expression was racial terror directed at African-Americans, to a lesser degree its victims included members of other ethnic groups, including whites.
Though the map shows lynchings concentrated in the Southeast, surprisingly (to this viewer, at least) they are recorded in all but the seven Northeast states. A table at lower left lists the tally by state, with Georgia (240) and Mississippi (217) the clear “leaders.”
The map uses data compiled by the Department of Records and Research at the Tuskegee Institute. Established in Tuskegee, Alabama in 1881 by Booker T. Washington, the Institute’s mission was to educate African-Americans at a time when the rights won at such great cost during the Civil War were being eroded. The Institute’s Department of Records was founded by sociologist Monroe Work (1866-1945), who spent decades documenting instances of lynching around the country. Work’s research built on that begun in the 1890s by the Chicago Tribune and in turn is a valuable resource even today. To give but one example, he is cited with great appreciation in “Lynching in America[:] Confronting the Legacy of Racial Terror” (Montgomery, AL: Equal Justice Initiative, 2017), p. 4)
The map is accompanied by the pamphlet Lynchings and What They Mean: General Findings of the Southern Commission on the Study of Lynching (Atlanta, 1931), from which it was detached many years ago. The Commission, of which Monroe Work was a member, was established in 1930 by the Atlanta-based interracial Commission on Interracial Cooperation, in response to a sharp increase in lynching after years of decline.
“… the Commission… felt that the fundamental need was for a better understanding of the causes underlying the resort to mob violence. If careful study could reveal the psychology of mobs, and ascertain some common threads in the lynching pattern, it should then be an easier task to plan effective preventive steps.” (Lynchings and What They Mean, p. 5)
The report summarizes the statistics and circumstances of lynchings over the past decade, with particular emphasis on the psychology of mob violence and the ways mobs were abetted or opposed by institutions (law enforcement, church and the press) in the communities where they took place. It concludes with recommendations for reducing the frequency of lynching, emphasizing a multi-prong approach involving legislation, the role of law enforcement, and changing public opinion.
As things turned out, 1930 marked a low point; according to one source, over the course of the 1930s lynchings declined from 21 in 1930 to three in 1939; 1952 marked the first year without any documented lynchings, though it can be argued that they continued episodically at least until 1981, when Michael Donald of Mobile, Alabama was hanged by members of the Ku Klux Klan. In that case, however, the perpetrators were prosecuted and one executed by electric chair.
OCLC 833911 et al (pamphlet) and 43839752 (map). Not in Persuasive Cartography: The PJ Mode Collection.