Lynchings in the American South

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May Lynch: 3 to 6 Negroes This Evening” is the headline from the Memphis Press, Jan. 26 1921.

Public lynchings were common in America for much of the 20th Century. At its height at the turn of the century, two to three people, mostly southern blacks, were lynched every week.

Railroads ran special excursion trains to lynching sites, and thousands gathered to watch the beating, hanging, and burning of human beings. Spectators brought cameras and vendors printed photographs on the spot, minting a small fortune by turning the prints into souvenir postcards.

Some of those photographs are now part of a new exhibit at the New York Historical Society, and what they show is the shameless, festive carnival of lynching: Women with parasols, children lifted onto shoulders for the view, and large groups of men, all expectant and exultant.

Lynching in America, on this hour.
(Hosted by Christopher Lydon)


Leon Litwack and James Allen.