New Interactive Map Visualizes the Chilling History of Lynching in the U.S. (1835–1964)

Whether we like to admit it or not, the his­to­ry of the U.S. is in great degree a his­to­ry of geno­cide and racist ter­ror. As Rox­anne Dun­bar-Ortiz has demon­strat­ed in An Indige­nous Peo­ples’ His­to­ry of the Unit­ed States, the phrase “Man­i­fest Des­tiny”—which we gen­er­al­ly asso­ciate with the sec­ond half of the 19th century—accurately describes the nation’s ethos since well before its found­ing. The idea that the entire con­ti­nent belonged by right of “Prov­i­dence” to a high­ly spe­cif­ic group of Euro­pean set­tlers is what we often hear spo­ken of now of as “white nation­al­ism,” an ide­ol­o­gy that has been as vio­lent and bloody as cer­tain oth­er nation­alisms, and in many ways much more so.

“Some­how,” writes Dun­bar-Ortiz, “even ‘geno­cide’ seems an inad­e­quate descrip­tion for what hap­pened” to the Native Amer­i­can nations. Mar­tin Luther King, Jr. rec­og­nized this his­to­ry as insep­a­ra­ble from the strug­gles of African-Amer­i­cans and oth­er groups, writ­ing in 1963’s Why We Can’t Wait, “our nation was born in geno­cide when it embraced the doc­trine that the orig­i­nal Amer­i­can, the Indi­an, was an infe­ri­or race. Even before there were large num­bers of Negroes on our shores, the scar of racial hatred had already dis­fig­ured colo­nial soci­ety. From the six­teenth cen­tu­ry for­ward, blood flowed in bat­tles of racial suprema­cy.”

One strik­ing commonality—or rather continuity—in the his­to­ries Dun­bar-Ortiz and King tell is that a huge num­ber of vio­lent attacks on Native and Black peo­ple, slave and free, were car­ried out by ordi­nary set­tlers and cit­i­zens, unof­fi­cial­ly dep­u­tized by the state as irreg­u­lar enforcers of white suprema­cy. Espe­cial­ly in the cen­tu­ry after the Civ­il War, white nation­al­ism took the form of lynch­ings: bru­tal vig­i­lante hang­ings, burn­ings, and muti­la­tions meant to ter­ror­ize com­mu­ni­ties of col­or and enact the kind of fron­tier “jus­tice” pio­neered on the actu­al fron­tier. Most of the record­ed vic­tims were African-Amer­i­can, but “Native Amer­i­cans, as well as Mex­i­can, Chi­nese, and Ital­ian work­ers were bru­tal­ized and mur­dered” as well, writes Lau­ra Bliss at City­lab, and “although the rur­al South was by far the blood­i­est region nation­al­ly, no area was real­ly safe.”

Now, a new inter­ac­tive map—named Mon­roe Work Today after the ear­ly 20th cen­tu­ry his­to­ri­an (Mon­roe Nathan Work) who gath­ered much of the data—“aims to be the most com­pre­hen­sive cat­a­logue of proven lynch­ings that took place in the Unit­ed States from 1835 to 1964.” The site calls its impres­sive map “a rebirth of one piece” of Mon­roe Work’s lega­cy, expand­ed to include many more sources and the post WWII peri­od. “In the cen­tu­ry after the Civ­il War,” write the map’s cre­ators, “as many as 5000 peo­ple of col­or were executed—not by courts, but by mobs on the street who believed the cause of white suprema­cy.”

Lynch­ings became wide­spread in the ear­ly 1800s, “as a form of self-appoint­ed jus­tice in local com­mu­ni­ties… when towns­peo­ple made grave accu­sa­tions first, but nev­er both­ered to gath­er proof.” In the post­bel­lum U.S., such killings became more exclu­sive­ly racial­ized in “very real cru­sades to change the Unit­ed States to a place only for whites.” Local lead­ers “encour­aged peo­ple to car­ry that idea onto the streets.” As you can see in the screen­shots here from par­tic­u­lar­ly vio­lent peri­ods in his­to­ry, most, but by no means all of these extra­ju­di­cial killings took place in the South against African Amer­i­cans.

In oth­er areas of den­si­ty in the South­west, “Far West,” and “Left Coast” (as the project refers to these areas) the vic­tims tend­ed to be Latino/a, Chi­nese, or Native Amer­i­can. In New Orleans, a deep pool of blue marks the many Sicil­ian vic­tims of lynch­ing in the late 19th cen­tu­ry.

For a num­ber of rea­sons dis­cussed on the site, the map’s cre­ators cau­tion against using their tool “to decide that some places suf­fered ‘more racism’ than oth­ers.” Many oth­er forms of racist vio­lence, from intim­i­da­tion to rape, redlin­ing, crim­i­nal­iza­tion, and job dis­crim­i­na­tion have been wide­spread around the coun­try and are not shown on the map. In antic­i­pa­tion of accu­sa­tions of bias, Mon­roe Work Today encour­ages users to eval­u­ate the source for them­selves. (“You should always do this with any­thing you read online.”) A good place to start would be their exten­sive bib­li­og­ra­phy. As you scroll through the site, you’ll find oth­er ques­tions answered as well.

Writ­ing at The Smith­son­ian, Dan­ny Lewis calls the map “an impor­tant endeav­or to help mark these dark parts of Amer­i­can his­to­ry and make it more vis­i­ble and acces­si­ble for all.” But Mon­roe Work Today is more than a research tool. The site bears wit­ness to a con­tin­u­ing sto­ry. “The threat of vio­lence for Amer­i­cans of col­or is alive and real,” writes Bliss, “This is a good time to revis­it its his­to­ry.”

via The Smith­son­ian

Relat­ed Con­tent:

The Atlantic Slave Trade Visu­al­ized in Two Min­utes: 10 Mil­lion Lives, 20,000 Voy­ages, Over 315 Years

Visu­al­iz­ing Slav­ery: The Map Abra­ham Lin­coln Spent Hours Study­ing Dur­ing the Civ­il War

75 Years of CIA Maps Now Declas­si­fied & Made Avail­able Online

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Durham, NC. Fol­low him at @jdmagness

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Comments (8)
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  • Bill W. says:

    It’s for­got­ten that just as many whites were lynched as any oth­er demo­graph­ic dur­ing that era. Back then, you behaved your­self (regard­less of color)…or else. It must have worked, as evi­denced by the sto­ries that old peo­ple tell about how they used to be able to leave their front doors unlocked, and were able to sleep on the porch at night, etc. if they want­ed to!

  • Conrad H says:

    These stud­ies and research are Inter­est­ing. Where can we see the data that sup­ports the com­ment above?

  • Jamil says:

    As many Whites were lynched as Blacks dur­ing that era? Where is the evi­dence for that state­ment? I must be liv­ing in an alter­na­tive real­i­ty.

  • Doris Doomsday says:

    Take that white-nation­al­ist revi­sion­ism some­where else. Open Cul­ture read­ers aren’t buy­ing it.

  • Master Idiot says:

    From 1882–1968, 4,743 lynch­ings occurred in the Unit­ed States.  Of these peo­ple that were lynched 3,446 were black.  The blacks lynched account­ed for 72.7% of the peo­ple lynched.  These num­bers seem large, but it is known that not all of the lynch­ings were ever record­ed.  Out of the 4,743 peo­ple lynched only 1,297 white peo­ple were lynched.

  • Gregory J says:

    Bill W., cor­re­la­tion does not imply cau­sa­tion. i think it is an insane­ly long stretch to con­done lynch­ing so that folks can leave their doors unlocked.

  • Gregory J says:

    Bill W. this is as far back as I could find sta­tis­tics, if you have fur­ther evi­dence please pro­vide or retract your state­ment.

    p.s. i am of the opin­ion that no white man was ever lynched because of his skin col­or.

  • Needles says:

    I call total BS on Bill W’s com­ment.

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