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Book Review: Lynching in the Heartland: by James Madison

Updated on February 4, 2014

In 1930, three African, American Teenagers were charged and convicted for murdering a white man and raping a white woman. On the night of August 1930, a gathering formed in front of an Indian prison where these boys had been convicted, women, men and children who were shouting and jeering, demanding that prison officials release these three African American prisoners so that they could deal with them. The three teenagers, Abe Smith, James Cameron and Tom Shipp were huddling inside the prison cells. Some of the people who had gathered in front of the prison broke the prison doors and pulled the three boys from their cells. They senselessly beat them and dragged them to a nearby tree on the prison square. Two of the boys died with ropes hanging around their necks and their bodies were hanging down a tree. The town photographers who had captured the images described this event as among the most thrilling images in American history.

This Indian Lynching is however, not the first in American history; in fact, it is among the several of them. In their lunching operation, the mob had not been satisfied to finish the “offending” boys at the prison or taking them to an isolated place. Instead, they chose to use the prison square owing to its geographical centrality to their town. The mob intentionally undertook these operations on that stage by employing lynch ropes as their central props. This irate mob had insisted that the two bodies should not be removed from their positions but should be left for a while. This was purposely meant to send a message to blacks on the dangers of stepping on the “toes of white people”.

Lynching which is hereby described as a practice of murdering people by extrajudicial mob action were an occasional happening in American history mainly from 18th century through 1960s. In most cases, this lynching occurred in the southern parts of United States from 1890s through 1920s. The highest toll ever recorded was in 1892. Lynching was also seen as a common phenomenon in the old west.

This behavior has been associated with the re-imposition of the white preeminence in the Southern parts in the post civil war. The provision of the constitutional rights to freedmen to United States federal government during the reconstruction period (1865–77) brought with it anxieties among U.S citizens, who started blaming African Americans with regard to their own hardship problems during the war, economical problems as well as the social privileged forfeiture. The African Americans and white populace who were active in following their rights of integration were in many occasions lynched especially in the South during this period of reconstruction.

Lynching reached its toll during the 19th and 20th centuries when the states in the south altered their electoral and constitutional regulations so as to disfranchise African Americans or blacks in general. Having achieved this political autonomy, the southern states enacted a sequence of laws and regulations that were segregation to Black Americans with an intention of re-establishing white preeminence. The famous lynching of integration rights employees in the period of 1960s in the state of Mississippi contributed to galvanizing community support for the civil rights legislation and also the civil rights movement.

In the period of 1882-1968, there were around 3,446 African American that were lunched in the Sothern States of America. The increase in the number of blacks lynched may be due to the creation of the new constitution during the period of 1890-1910 with provisions disfranchised Africans and poor Whiteman. In addition, blacks wee bared from serving in juries and political systems.


Authors: Madison, James H.

Title: A Lynching in the Heartland: Race and Memory in America.

Place of Publication: New York

Year Pubished 2001.

Reviewer: Silas Nyamweya

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