Lynching in the United States, Explained

In many respects, Americans have begun to face the gruesome threads of history that are sewn into the country’s fabric. The mass genocide of indigenous peoples is generally understood to have been cruel, ruthless, murderous, and without humanity. The enslavement of African people and their descendants has been widely accepted as a despicable and vile institution that was leveraged to build the economic and physical infrastructure of the country. As of late, virtually all monuments to the Confederacy have been identified as inherently racist and rooted in the preservation of anti-black sentiment.

But in the United States, there are still horrors that we’ve yet to fully grapple with as we work to confront our racial past and its effects. At the top of that list is lynching, a form of often-racialized terror where an individual or group is put to death — especially by hanging — for a perceived offense, with or without a trial. The act is usually carried out by a mob, and it happened with great frequency throughout U.S. history.

Bryan Stevenson, founder of the Equal Justice Initiative (EJI), tells Teen Vogue that lynching was so common because “slavery didn’t end in 1865, it just evolved,” ushering in a new era of terror for black Americans. Stevenson and the EJI recently partnered with the Brooklyn Museum on an exhibit titled “The Legacy of Lynching: Confronting Racial Terror in America,” in which photographers show the long legacy of slavery and its subsequent manifestation in lynching through the personal stories and accounts of black people.


Nearly 4,100, black Americans were lynched in the United States between 1877 and 1950, according to a report from the EJI, and those are just the ones on record. Most of these “racial terror lynchings,” as the EJI describes them in its report, remain undocumented because white people generally had no incentive to record the senseless, extrajudicial murders of black Americans at the hands of vigilante white mobs. Initially, many of these acts of racial terror were a direct response to the period of Reconstruction, between 1865 and 1877, when black American political, economic, and social access was temporarily invigorated. While most lynchings occurred in the South, they were also common in states such as Illinois, Indiana, Missouri, and Ohio.


Read the full article at Teen Vogue.