Take a step up on the platform, and breathe in one of your last breaths. Your eyes involuntarily start tearing up, though you don’t mean to look weak. You didn’t do anything wrong; you know that. The color of your skin is something you can’t help. At this point, the noose is placed over your head. The platform drops out from under you, and everything goes black. This scenario was all too common for African Americans all throughout the United States in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s. More specifically, 4,743 innocent African Americans were killed during this time period (“Lynching Statistics”). This atrocity only furthered African American resentment towards their white oppressors, which made their rebellion a very violent affair. Many factors contributed to the mass lynches that were primarily for African Americans. One of these reasons was that the newly freed African American slaves posed a new threat to white women. In hopes of protecting their loved ones, white men automatically assume the absolute worst about African American men, especially if said white man sees the African American man speaking or merely looking at a white woman (“Lynching”). For example, in 1955, an African-American teenager, Emmett Till, from Chicago, was murdered while visiting family in Money, Mississippi; a town with a population of 55. Till's only offense: trying to flirt with a store owner's European-American wife due to a dare from his friends. Four days later, his beaten, unclothed, and dead body was found in the banks of the Tallahatchie River, nearby. The store owner (the European woman’s husband) and his half-brother were the culprits. Both of these men had no consequences for their violent acts of hatred for a stranger merely speaking to their loved one, who had no harm due to the conversation (Steelwater). It was all too common that immediate assumptions were implied that African Americans had the intentions of harming or raping the white woman (“Lynching”). In the present day, this type of unfortunate situation would be instantly classified as a prime example of direct racism, yet this was commonly accepted and encouraged in the 1800’s and 1900’s. Another possible reason for lynching was speaking out of turn. If whites did not allow permission for African Americans to speak, or, even worse, had they talked back to their white oppressors, they would quickly be physically punished or put to death. Southern, white slave owners felt as though their “whiteness is a privilege”, and that questioning such a fact is sickening (Steelwater). It was believed that in the social structure of the United States, white (males, specifically) were at the very top. Slave owners kept this in mind as a “lower human being” was giving them an unpleasant attitude, and punished them greatly for their grave mistake (Varney). Although, most times African Americans had no reason to be punished. Innocence was a common trait for those killed during these lynches. One slave, William Coleman, actually got to tell his story of a uniform white attack on him. In his testimony, Coleman states “Well, I don’t know anything that I had said or done that injured any one. Further than
being a radical in that part of the land, as for interrupting any one, I didn’t…” (*Waldrep, 139). Instances like this depict the confusion that the African Americans had towards why the hatred was directed towards them. They believed that they were being punished for no reason whatsoever, yet took these punishments without question due to the fear that the white supremacists had instilled in them.
These punishments were not so easy to accept; regardless of knowing the reason they were receiving them or not. Lynching is not only limited to public hangings, but also includes travesties such as burning, beating, stabbing, shooting, and/or slowly torturing to death (Varney). In some cases, especially when the Black was suspected of committing an actual crime, lynches became tremendous...
Cited: Publishers, Inc., 2009. Print.
Wood, Amy. Lynching and Spectacle: Witnessing Racial Violence in America , 1890-1940.
The University of North Carolina Press, 2009. Print.
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