Globalizing Lynching History: Vigilantism and Extralegal by Manfred Berg, Simon Wendt (eds.)

By Manfred Berg, Simon Wendt (eds.)

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Tolnay and Beck counted a total of 199 lynchings in Arkansas between 1882 and 1930, a number for 48 years that is smaller than the number killed in just three days in 1919. According to Tolnay and Beck, in 1919, only 63 persons perished at the hands of lynchers in all the states. 42 Tolnay and Beck base their count on judgments made by the NAACP and the Tuskegee Institute to include few, if any, of the Arkansas killings as lynchings. While the NAACP ultimately put the number killed around Elaine at 250, it initially counted only seven lynchings LYNCHING “EXCEPTIONALISM” 47 for the entire year in all of Arkansas.

Thus, riots could not be lynchings, and journalistic habits describing them as such which stretched back a generation had to be reversed. That the NAACP was able to accomplish such a thing is a tribute to its agency and cultural power. But it is an irony that black agency made black victimhood the centerpiece of lynching. The NAACP— and all black Americans— appear most often as the victims of language. Turn-of-century white Americans relied on “pseudo-scientific pronouncements of Nordic supremacy” to craft myths useful not only in suppressing black Americans, but “eminently suited to their pursuit of imperialist goals throughout Africa and Asia,” Robert Zangrando has written.

The Department of Justice provided him with the articles he quoted. A day later the Department of Justice endorsed Byrnes’ accusations, claiming that it had evidence proving that the Soviet Union paid for propaganda published in the United States. 23 Leading newspapers eagerly followed the administration’s line. The New York Times had reacted to the Washington riot with the classic lyncher’s defense. Black criminality— especially the crime of rape, directed at white women—incited whites’ violence, the paper claimed, and it blamed the police for failing to keep up with mushrooming black criminality.

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