Lynching Victims: Unequal in Death
Updated: Sep 7
By: Donald V. Watkins
© Copyrighted and Published on January 7, 2020
According to a study conducted by Tuskegee University, between 1882 and 1968, 4,743 people were lynched in the United States, including 3,446 blacks and 1,297 whites. The Montgomery, Alabama-based Equal Justice Initiative catalogued 4,084 "racial terror lynchings" in twelve Southern states (Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, and Virginia) between the end of Reconstruction in 1877 and 1950. Another 300 "racial terror lynching" occurred in Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Maryland, Missouri, Ohio, Oklahoma, and West Virginia during this period, according to the EJI.
The white victims of lynchings during this period were mostly Finnish-Americans, German-Americans, and Italian-Americans.
In California and the Old West, the lynching victims were usually Hispanic-Americans, Native-Americans, and Asian-Americans.
The United States government has never compensated the families of black lynching victims. The opposite is true for at least eleven white Italian-Americans who were lynched in 1891 in New Orleans.
The stereotypical lynching in the American psyche is a hanging. Victims of lynchings were killed in a variety of other ways. Many were shot repeatedly; others were burned alive; some were forced to jump off of bridges; some were dragged behind horse drawn buggies and cars, some were castrated and/or ripped apart by horses or cars pulling in opposite directions. Many times the lynching victims were tortured before they were killed. Their body parts were often removed and sold as souvenirs.
Occasionally, lynchings were not fatal. For example, a "mock" lynching (i.e., putting the rope around the neck of someone suspected of concealing information) was used by police officers and others to compel "confessions."
The perpetrators of lynchings in America were nearly always local white vigilantes.
The New Orleans Lynchings
On March 14, 1891, eleven Italian-Americans were lynched in New Orleans. The lynching took place the day after the trial of nine of nineteen Italian-American men who were suspects in the murder of New Orleans police chief David Hennessy. Six of these defendants were acquitted. A mistrial was declared for the remaining three defendants because the trial jury could not agree on their verdicts. The other ten defendants were in jail and awaiting trial.
After the trial, William S. Parkerson, head of the local "Committee on Safety, " a vigilante group, issued a call to action. Parkerson proclaimed, " When the law is powerless, rights delegated by the people are relegated back to the people and they are justified in doing that which the court's have failed to do." Following Parkerson's proclamation, the lynch mob stormed the jail.
One mentally ill suspect was taken outside the prison, hanged from a lamppost and shot repeatedly. Another one was hanged from a tree and shot repeatedly. Nine others were shot or clubbed to death inside the prison. The bodies of the two who were hanged were left hanging for hours.
The Italian government demanded that the lynch mob be brought to justice and that reparations be paid to the dead men's families. The U.S. declined to prosecute the mob leaders who included: William Parkerson, mob organizer; John C. Wickliffe, editor of the New Delta newspaper; John M. Parker, Louisiana's 37th governor; and Walter C. Flowers, the 44th mayor of New Orleans.
Diplomatic relations between the United States and Italy remained tense and at an impasse for over a year.
Eventually, President Benjamin Harrison declared the first nationwide celebration of Columbus Day in 1892 as an act of appeasement to the nation's Italian-Americans. He also agreed to pay a $25,000 indemnity to the families of the victims. Each family received $2,221.90.
In April, 2019, New Orleans Mayor LaToya Cantrell, a black woman, issued the city's first ever apology to Italian-Americans for the 1891 lynchings.
The physical lynching of blacks by white vigilante groups, for the most part, has ceased. Mob lynchings have been replaced by the mass incarceration of blacks by men and women in black judicial robes who achieve the same result by pretending to act under the "color of law." For example, Blacks make up 13% of the U.S. population. Yet, they account for 37.5% of the federal prison population. Black men are imprisoned by federal judges at six times the rate of white men and for much longer terms of imprisonment. Black women are imprisoned at nearly double the rate of white women. These are the modern-day vigilantes who are terrorizing America's black communities.
The Thirteenth Amendment's prohibition on slavery and involuntary servitude has a loophole -- "except as a punishment for crime." Highly educated, well-mannered, polite, white supremacists on the federal bench have used this loophole to drive the mass incarceration of blacks, particularly black men.
In 1857, U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice Roger B. Tanney wrote the majority opinion in the Dred Scott case, which held on a 7 to 2 vote that blacks in America -- freed or enslaved -- had no rights that white men were bound to respect. Sadly, the federal bench today is filled with men and women who think and act like Roger B. Tanney. The U.S. Bureau of Prison's own statistics evidence disparate treatment between blacks and whites in federal incarceration rates.
Black men are no longer physically tortured and castrated. Instead, they are psychologically castrated and neutered to maintain and enforce the same measure of white supremacy that lynchings once accomplished in the black community.
As the New Orleans lynchings have shown, the disparate treatment of African-Americans occurs -- even in vigilante death cases.