In 1931 a young man by the name of Jesse Washington was lynched by a mob. Jesse was seventeen years old and mentally handicapped. He was accused of raping and killing a white woman. Instead of a proper trial with a judge and a jury, he was castrated, mutilated and burned by a mob that included the mayor and chief of police of Waco Texas. Jesse was one of nearly 5,000 people that were killed by lynching from 1880-1940.
Lynching stems from slavery and defining persons of African descent as property. Slaves were often punished in a public setting so they could be made an example of. They were whipped, tortured, and sometimes murdered in front of other slaves as a demonstration of power. Lynching was a way to assert white supremacy over African Americans.
Major crimes such as murder, and rape would constitute rape, but minor offenses such as looking at a white woman, talking back, or not being able to repay a white moneylender were used as justification for lynching.
In many cases African Americans were lynched for nothing other than a groups racial prejudice.
Leaders of society more often lead a lynching than tried to stop one. Clergymen, business leaders, and even police officials participated in Lynchings. The sheer publicity of a lynching should have constituted an punishment for not only those that lead the lynching, but those that stood by and watched. However, few were arrested, and even fewer were prosecuted and put in jail for their actions. It seemed as if society had accepted the murder of a person as normal, because such a large group of people supported it.
The Ku Klux Klan frequently used lynching to intimidate freed former slaves and their white supporters. The KKK placed men in positions of political power to lead the way to murder, this exposed more people to the ideas of racism and lynching.
The majority of lynchings took place in the south, it is estimated that over 85% occurred in southern states, and another 10% occurred in Border States. The after burn of the civil war caused many slaveholders to become bitter against blacks that had finally received rights. This made it easier for a mob to begin, and a lynching to occur.
Lynching was viewed as a normal occurrence that was morally wrong in no way. In 1939, a controversial song by Billie Holiday called Strange Fruit expressed the presence of lynching in the South.
ÃÂSouthern trees beat a strange fruitBlood on the leaves and blood at the rootBlack Bodies swinging in the breezeStrange fruit hanging from the poplar treesÃÂA strange fruit indeed hung from the trees, and with it the stench of death, and the presence of evil.
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