Despite the triumph of equality and justice after Union’ army success in the American Civil War and the Reconstruction period, the Southern states suffered from adverse effects of lynching. At that time, the white majority began to establish its superiority by undertaking extreme measures, namely unauthorized reprisals against black people and other minorities. According to researchers, lynching (massacre, beating, and murder) without a trial, got its name from racist planter Charles Lynch, who lived in Virginia in the seventeenth century (Vandiver, 2006). Lynching was usually applied in relation to black people, although white individuals, whose views contracted the aggressive crowd and members of the Ku Klux Klan, were also exposed to it. The current paper seeks to examine this historical event in the South, its socio-economic, political, religious influences, and significance for the U.S. history.
As it has been mentioned above, the term “lynching” comes from the name of Virginian landowner Charles Lynch. The man organized reprisals against lawbreakers. Slave owners often killed their slaves, but the concept of lynching included more than just the punishment of enslaved individuals. Residents considered themselves judges, jury and executioners. The crowd executed criminals considering the entire process to be a kind of a spectacle. Lynching became widespread during the Civil War. Initially, black people were subjected to it. In the course of time, white individuals were also involved. It depended on the place of living. In the South, mostly African Americans became victims, while in the Western part, those were white individuals. In the nineteenth century, Vigilante groups became popular (Vandiver, 2006). They believed that the U.S. laws could not stop crimes. Therefore, these groups executed offenders themselves.
The practice of lynching involved executors and witnesses of this inhumane sight. Up to hundreds of people took the law in own hands and killed a person, whom they considered a wrongdoer. Offenses ranged from serious crimes, including a murder and theft, as well as the violation of traditions and customs. Executors paid minor attention to one’s guilt. They sought to get rid of racial minorities and did not give even a small chance for an offender to redress a wrongdoing. Hegemonic conflicts, vigilantism, and an inter-ethnic violent struggle have a long history. Charles Lynch was an eminent personality of the American Revolution. His response to the tumultuous times was the introduction of own rules of dealing with criminals and wrongdoers (Vandiver, 2006). With the nation’s expansion, lynching was widely spread and accepted by many people. Mostly, due to socio-economic and political instability, as well as religious aspects, cruel persons carried out a rapid and spectacular punishment for the imaginary and real misconduct. The relationship between religion and lynching was evident. Various competing religious denominations weakened community’s cohesiveness and enhanced white solidarity and supremacy (Bailey & Snedker, 2011). As a result, lynching was widely practiced towards the representatives of particular religions despite great religious diversity at that time. Through that process, white patriarchal politicians sought to disable racial minorities and point to their place in society. Political violence against black people was commonplace. The inability to run for political office forced the minority to rebel against white officials. The practice of lynching was supposed to repress their attempts.
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Social control was an integral part of rules and laws introduced by a fierce mob. The representatives of business and political spheres encouraged and led lynching neglecting any moral and ethnic values. It served as a kind of the resolution of interracial conflicts. The majority regarded it as recreation, not a punishment for misconduct. Religious values and preferences also played a role in the choice of the next victim. Through racist theories and imperialist ambitions, Americans established their supremacy. Violence and aggression served as their main domestic means for promoting white domination.
Lynching of successful merchants and farmers provided new economic opportunities for white locals and secured their place in the social hierarchy. Civil rights activists, radicals, representatives of labor unions, and critics of the government were also the main targets of cruel executors. Therefore, it was unsafe to express unpopular ideas openly or to have a distinct point of view. African Americans living in the South feared lynching. They believed that nothing would stop white men, who would continue to carry out horrific, extrajudicial acts of terror demonstrating their white supremacy in various spheres of life, including socio-economic and political ones (Zinn, 2005). They also sought to instill constant fear in racial minorities. Lynching significantly affected racial relations in America. This inhumane practice also shaped socio-economic, political, and geographic conditions of racial minorities. Due to lynching, millions of African Americans were forced to leave the South since they could not live in a fearful environment anymore. Most of the black people settled in urban ghettos (Finnegan, 2013). Segregation and subordination required resistance, but efforts were insufficient. Lynching promoted racial inequality that had never been addressed by Americans in a proper manner. Its social impact is that since then people have started fighting for justice, fairness, and integrity in the country.
To conclude, in the nineteenth century, lynching was associated with the provision of social control and the punishment of wrongdoers. However, some people regarded this inhumane practice as recreation. Thousands of black people were lynched in wartime. Tortures and violence traumatized representatives of racial minorities, and, therefore, most of them were forced to leave the South. Federal and state officials tolerated lynching, and they were not going to change anything. Some people associated this barbaric practice with terrorism due to the humiliation and fear it instilled. Racial minorities, including Asians, Latinos, Jews, and African Americans, suffered from inequality, justice, and police abuse in the terror era. The significance of this event to the modern U.S. history cannot be underestimated because the nation has managed to overcome social injustice and start living anew.
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