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WillIam Brotherson Professor Hiroshi Fukurai LGST/SOC 128i December 1, 2011 A New Lynching INTRO: The tradition of lynching in United States actually predates the country itself. Since the beginnings of Jamestown, the first permanent English settlement, lynching had already become a fully entrenched practice. The concept of using extra-legal means to punish a criminal actually predates recorded history, but in America the concept of lynching evolved into something much more than an act of vigilante justice. In fact, the term “lynch� is said to have derived from a Virginia Plantation owner named William Lynch, making lynching a distinctly American practice. The most notable difference between lynching in America and generic vigilante justice is the strong racial component of American lynching. Lynching in the US is most often associated with brutal acts of violence directed towards African Americans. The practice of lynching exploded after the Civil War, particularly in the Southern States. Many white people in the south, who had already been humiliated in their loss to the North, directed their anger to African Americans. The passing of the 14th amendment only furthered their resentment toward African Americans, who had now become their legal equals. (Although the vast social and economical differences created by slavery were and still are prevalent.) With the passage of the 14th amendment African Americans were granted all Constitutional rights that had previously eluded them, including the right to due process. The


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KKK and other groups like them, who believed in engaging in acts of violence to promote white supremacy, became attractive to white people in these states.1 The period most often associated with lynching is 1880-1930.2 During this time, about 3,000 African Americans were murdered by lynch mobs- the majority of which took place in Southern States. Although these African American men, women and children were for the most part alleged criminals, in many cases the severity of these crimes did not fit with the brutal punishments administered by the lynch mobs. In her article, History of Lynching in the United States, Jana Evans Braziel charts a list of “crimes” (See Appendix) that were used for the justifications of lynchings.3 These “crimes” include acting suspiciously, trying to colonize blacks, voting for the wrong party, throwing stones (it is unclear whether or not that allegation was literal or figurative) and testifying against a white man. Because of the frivolous nature in which these vindicatory and sadistic lynch mobs unleashed their brutal punishments, it is reasonable to assert that every African American in the south during these years was in danger of being lynched. Definitions of Lynching (Review): The widely accepted legal definition of lynching is any violent punishment or execution, without due process, for real or alleged crimes. 4 However, this type of definition fails to explain the strong racial component clearly evident in racial lynchings. These types of definitions also imply that all victims of lynching must at least be accused of committing a crime, however 1

Lehman, Jeffrey, and Shirelle Phelps. “Lynching” West's encyclopedia of American law. 2nd ed. Detroit: Thomson/Gale, 2005. Print. 2 Tolnay, Stewart Emory, and E. M. Beck. A festival of violence: an analysis of Southern lynchings, 1882-1930. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1995. Print. 3 Evans Braziel, Jana. “History of Lynching in the United States, Jana Evans Braziel.” University of Massachusetts Amherst. American Comparative Literature Association, n.d. Web. 7 Nov. 2011. <http://www.umass.edu/complit/aclanet/USLynch.html>. 4

Lehman, Jeffrey, and Shirelle Phelps. “Lynching” West's encyclopedia of American law. 2nd ed. Detroit: Thomson/Gale, 2005. Print.


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erroneous those allegations may be. Many lynchings, however did not meet this requirement. (As evidenced above.) While there is no doubt that all of these actions were deplorable in the minds of the lynch mobs who dealt out punishments, “being obnoxious,” “voting for wrong party,” and several of the other “crimes” documented by Braziel were not actually illegal acts. So if these types of definitions fail to describe lynching, what then is lynching? In her article, “Lynching from a Negro’s Point of View” Mary Church Terrell argues that the cause of lynching is something referred to as the “New Issue.” In this article she states that “no language is sufficiently caustic, bitter and severe, to express the disgust, hatred and scorn which Southern gentlemen feel for what is called the “New Issue,” which, being interpreted, means, negroes who aspire to knowledge and culture, and who have acquired a taste for the highest and best things in life… The alleged fear of social equality has always been used… to explain [the South’s] unchristian treatment of the Negro and to excuse its many crimes.” In this same article Terrell explains how lynching was used to control the “New Issue”: “When men know that the death-knell of their aspirations and hopes will be sounded as soon as they express views to which the majority in their immediate vicinage are opposed, they either suppress their views or trim them to fit the popular mind.”5

Terrell’s points are similar to that of another scholar, Oliver C. Cox, who also felt that the common definition of lynching was insufficient. Oliver C. Cox, in The Journal of Negro Education wrote an article entitled “Lynching and the Status Quo.” In this article, Cox argue that the frequent classifying of lynching as the “taking of the life of one or more persons by a mob in retribution for some criminal outrage committed by the former,” as well as its frequent association with the western frontier and other rural communities (where there either is “no constituted juridical machinery” or where the “he police 5

Church Terrell, Mary . "Lynching from a Negro's Point of View." The North American Review 178.571 (1904): 853-868. JSTOR. Web. 12 Nov. 2011.


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may be ineffectively organized”) are flawed. Cox argued that the aforementioned situations “have no racial, nationality, or political-class significance”6 and thus fail to accurately define lynching. Cox argues that lynching should be defined as “an act of homicidal aggression committed by one people against another through mob action for the purpose of suppressing either some tendency in the latter to rise from an accommodated position of subordination or for subjugating them further to some lower social status.” Cox goes on to describe lynching as the “most powerful and convincing form of racial repression operating in the interest of the status quo.” For Cox, lynching was clearly much more than an extra-legal means of punishing criminals. Throughout his article he demonstrated the ways in which it was used, not as a means of punishing an individual, but as a means of the ruling class to maintain it’s social order. He describes the process of a typical lynching in great detail, but the last steps of the process are arguably the most important. In these last steps, in which the lynching has already taken place, Cox states that the African Americans of the surrounding area become excessively prudent and cautious in their socializations with whites. The lynching has not only punished some individual for an alleged crime, or other act, but it has thoroughly infused such a strong sense of fear in all of the other African Americans in that area, that they would not dare commit any act against the ruling white class that could potentially condemn them to a similar fate. Cox’s definition seems to succeed where others have failed. While the commonly accepted definitions of lynching attempted to explain lynching as any extra-legal killing of a person or group for an alleged crime, these definitions failed to account for: (a) the lynchings that occurred in which the victims were not accused of a crime, and (b) the obvious racialization of lynching in the US (as evidenced by the disproportionate number of African American victims of lynching). Cox’s definition explains how lynchings were not used to punish alleged criminals, but instead 6

C. Cox, Oliver. "Lynching and the Status Quo." The Journal of Negro Education 14.4 (1945): 576-588. Print.


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were used as a means to punish individuals who did anything to upset the “status quo” and to incite fear into subservient groups so they don’t attempt to do the same. Cox’s definition explains the lynching of people who were not accused of committing a crime, as well as the strong racial component to lynchings in America. Cox’s definition, and others that are similar to it, provide the most accurate description of what lynching in America was: an extra-legal tool used by the ruling class to maintain the status quo. Modern Lynchings (Discussion): Oliver C. Cox and Mary Church Terrell provided arguments that challenged the commonly accepted legal definition of lynching, proving it to be flawed. Their works focused on uncovering the true societal function of lynching, and uncovered a racialized process of enforcing the status quo. Unfortunately their scope was limited to concepts of lynching that pertained to their respective time periods. Their definitions exclude a large number of modern incidents that served the same societal functions as lynchings did in their time. In present day society, the ruling class is able to enforce the status quo in a covert, legalized, though often still very racialized manner. Indeed lynching has moved away from a de facto legal act practiced by mobs, to a de jure act committed by every branch of the US government to maintain the “status quo” in the United States’ social hierarchy. Lynching no longer necessitates the use of mobs, torches, or ropes, and occasionally it’s victims do not even need to die. Any act committed by the ruling class, to silence, discredit, dishonor, or in any other way smear a person or group attempting to upset the status quo, is indeed a modern lynching. This section will discuss modern incidents that exemplify this new definition.


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Mumia Abu-Jamal: Mumia Abu-Jamal was born on April 24th, 1954 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. While Mumia is an award winning journalist and author he is most widely known for his status as a death row inmate. Since a young age Mumia has been a powerful, outspoken voice against Governmental injustice. As a teenager, Mumia went with a group of friends with to protest a rally for presidential candidate George Wallace. After they were thrown out for engaging in the black power salute, they were assaulted and beaten by a group of white gang members and Philadelphia PD. Mumia often states that this incident is what jump started his political aspirations: “I have been thankful to that cop ever since, for he kicked me straight into the Black Panther Party”7 Mumia joined the Philadelphia Black Panther Party and became the Minister of Information in 1968, although he left only two years later. During his time in the Black Panther Party he received the grounding in politics that we be the foundation for his career as an awardwinning journalist. During his time as a journalist he exposed cases of police brutality and police corruption. His work made him a target of the City of Philadelphia and the FBI. In a press conference after a controversial police shooting, Frank Rizzo, then mayor of Philadelphia lashed out at Mumia stating “They believe what you write, and what you say, and it's got to stop. And one day, and I hope it's in my career, that you're going to have to be held responsible and accountable for what you do.”8 Mumia’s exploits also garnered the attention of the FBI who amassed a 900-page file on him through the COINTELPRO program, the FBI’s counter intelligence agency.9 In fact, the FBI

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O'Connor, J. Patrick. The Framing of Mumia Abu-Jamal. Chicago: Chicago Review press, 2008. Print. 8 Jamal, Mumia, and Noelle Hanrahan. All things censored. New York: Seven Stories Press; 2001. Print. 9 Burroughs, Todd Steven. "READY TO PARTY." The College of New Jersey Home. The College of New Jersey, n.d. Web. 14 Nov. 2011. <http://www.tcnj.edu/~kpearson/Mumia/about.htm>.


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tried to convict him of murdering the Governor of Bermuda and his aide in the early 1970s.10 However, he was able to produce an airtight alibi at the time. On Dec. 9, 1981 three years after the Mayor Rizzo incident, was involved in a shooting in which he and Philadelphia Police Officer Daniel Faulkner were shot. Witnesses saw a man flee the scene who did not look like Abu-Jamal. But when police arrived, they arrested Mumia. Despite witness testimony on his behalf and a signed confession by another man, Mumia would later be convicted of the murder of Daniel Faulkner.11 This case is an example of how the ruling class was able to silence and discredit an individual in order to enforce the status quo. Mumia’s involvement in a revolutionary group, as well as his work as a journalist was a challenge to the US Government. And in the same way that racist white southerners dealt with the uppity Negroes of their time, the US Government responded by silencing him. It did not take a mob and it did not take a noose. No, all it took was the prosecutorial and judicial bias that penetrates through every aspect of the US criminal justice system. The US Government told Mumia “it’s got to stop” and they made sure it was stopped. This is just one example of how the ruling class no longer has to rely on extra-legal means to maintain the status quo, but can now enforce it through de jure practices of the Judicial Branch of the US Government. Judge Clarence Thomas: In October 1991 Clarence Thomas, a judge recently appointed to the Supreme Court by then President George Bush, accused the Senate of lynching him during his confirmation hearings.

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Wolkenstein, Rachel. "The Fight to Free Mumia Abu-Jamal." Partisan Defense Committee. Partisan Defense Committee, n.d. Web. 9 Nov. 2011. <http://www.partisandefense.org/pubs/innocent/rwpres.html>. 11 Beverly, Arnold. "Affidavit by Arnold R. Beverly on the Events of December 9, 1981." International Bolshevik Tendency (IBT). N.p., n.d. Web. 27 Nov. 2011. <http://www.bolshevik.org/mumia/AffidavitbyArnoldRBeverly.html>.


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During the hearings allegations of sexual assault against Thomas surfaced. Because Thomas was a conservative, he felt that the Democratic senators were using these allegations as a way to discredit him as a candidate, since it would be hard for the party to oppose the nomination of an African American in any normal circumstance. During the hearings Thomas stated the following in response to a question by one of the Senators: â&#x20AC;&#x153;Senator, I would like to start by saying unequivocally, uncategorically, that I deny each and every single allegation against me today that suggested in any way that I had conversations of a sexual nature or about pornographic material with Anita Hill, that I ever attempted to date her, that I ever had any personal sexual interest in her, or that I in any way ever harassed herâ&#x20AC;Ś This is not a closed room. There was an FBI investigation. This is not an opportunity to talk about difficult matters privately or in a closed environment. This is a circus. It's a national disgrace. And from my standpoint as a black American, as far as I'm concerned, it is a high-tech lynching for uppity blacks who in any way deign to think for themselves, to do for themselves, to have different ideas, and it is a message that unless you kowtow to an old order, this is what will happen to you. You will be lynched, destroyed, caricatured by a committee of the US Senate rather than hung from a tree.â&#x20AC;?12

Although Thomas was eventually able to serve as a Supreme Court Judge, there is no denial that these hearings were an attempt to discredit a man who clearly sought to upset the status quo. His legacy will forever be tarnished by these allegations, whether they are true or not. Judge Thomas will have his name forever tied to the ideas of sexual harassment, gender and sexism, and whole litany of other horrible things. Through these allegations and subsequent hearings, members of Congress sent out a clear message that anyone who dares challenged the status quo in a manner they deem unacceptable, should be prepared to have their character defamed and their reputation 12

Hearings Before the Committee on the Judiciary, United States Senate, One Hundred Second Congress, First Session, on the Nomination of Clarence Thomas to be Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States. October 11,12 ,and 13, 1991, Part 4 of 4. Washington, DC: Government Printing Office, 1993. 5-10, 157-158.


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ripped to shreds. Yes, this act by members of the Legislative Branch is clearly a far cry away from the brutality inflicted on numerous African Americans during they heyday of American lynching, but the societal function it serves is the same. Anwar al-Awlaki: Anwar al-Awlaki was a US born, Yemeni-American imam who had recently been accused of being a terrorist leader of the militant Islamist group Al-Qaeda. Prior to being labeled terrorist leader, al-Awlaki was considered by the US government and the media to be a moderate Muslim cleric. He had even been invited to the for a lunch immediately following 9/11. He and other Muslim leaders were brought in to consult the US Government on how to root out extremism in the Muslim community. Unfortunately for Awlaki, he became increasingly radicalized after the US continuously attacked the Muslim world. He began to proclaim to his followers that it was both the duty and the right of Muslims to be more than just passive receivers of violence by the US. He insisted that the Muslim world most actively engage in defending itself and begin to attack the United States back as a means of deterring further violence. This change in Awlakiâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s ideology regarding the US no doubt spelled his end.13 Shortly after this change the US Government claimed to have discovered that Awlaki was doing more than just relaying messages and ideas of violence, but that he had taken up an active role in fighting back. They claimed that he started to have an operational role in several terrorist plots and eventually claimed he was now a leader in Al-Qaeda. Shortly after being added to the Presidentâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s terrorist list, on September 30, 2011, two Predator drones fired missiles at vehicles containing US born Anwar al-Awlaki and three other suspected al-Qaeda members in northern Yemen's al-Jawf province. Awlaki, a US born citizen, was accused of a crime and killed without due process in classic lynching fashion. Just as the US went outside the law to incite fear amongst 13

Brotherson, William. "Anwar al-Awlaki & Modern Lynching." Indybay-Santa Cruz 14 Nov. 2011: 1. Print.


Brotherson 10 African Americans, it did the same to Muslim citizens. Muslim citizens who wish to speak out against the atrocities that the US government continues to commit against the Muslim world will undoubtedly now think. The status quo is again enforced. Only this time it’s not a mob, but the Executive Branch of the US Government that enforces it. Conclusion: The commonly accepted definition of lynching as any violent punishment or execution, without due process, for real or alleged crimes does indeed have its uses. Clearly though, lynching in the United States evolved from being a brutal from of vigilante justice into a social institution used to maintain the status quo. Over the course of time lynching has grown from its rudimentary beginnings as a way of putting so-called “uppity negroes” in their place, into a means for the United States Government to silence anyone who seeks to upset the status quo. Gone are the angry vigilante mobs, the torches, and the nooses, but the practice of lynching still remains. It is practiced by the Judicial Branch through courts; by Legislative Branch through congressional hearings; and all the way through the top of the Executive Branch of the United States Government. The fear of lynching for any person that seeks to upset the status quo of United States’ social hierarchy is no less real than the fear that southern African Americans held during the heydays of traditional lynchings. And unless something is done soon, the practice may become too entrenched within our society to be removed.


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Works Cited Lehman, Jeffrey, and Shirelle Phelps. â&#x20AC;&#x153;Lynchingâ&#x20AC;? West's encyclopedia of American law. 2nd ed. Detroit: Thomson/Gale, 2005. Print. Tolnay, Stewart Emory, and E. M. Beck. A festival of violence: an analysis of Southern lynchings, 1882-1930. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1995. Print. Evans Braziel, Jana. "History of Lynching in the United States, Jana Evans Braziel." University of Massachusetts Amherst. American Comparative Literature Association, n.d. Web. 7 Nov. 2011. <http://www.umass.edu/complit/aclanet/USLynch.html>. Church Terrell, Mary . "Lynching from a Negro's Point of View." The North American Review 178.571 (1904): 853-868. JSTOR. Web. 12 Nov. 2011. C. Cox, Oliver. "Lynching and the Status Quo." The Journal of Negro Education 14.4 (1945): 576-588. Print. O'Connor, J. Patrick. The Framing of Mumia Abu-Jamal. Chicago: Chicago Review press, 2008. Print. Jamal, Mumia, and Noelle Hanrahan. All things censored. New York: Seven Stories Press; 2001. Print. Burroughs, Todd Steven. "READY TO PARTY." The College of New Jersey Home. The College of New Jersey, n.d. Web. 14 Nov. 2011. <http://www.tcnj.edu/~kpearson/Mumia/about.htm>. Wolkenstein, Rachel. "The Fight to Free Mumia Abu-Jamal." Partisan Defense Committee. Partisan Defense Committee, n.d. Web. 9 Nov. 2011. <http://www.partisandefense.org/pubs/innocent/rwpres.html>. Beverly, Arnold. "Affidavit by Arnold R. Beverly on the Events of December 9, 1981." International Bolshevik Tendency (IBT). N.p., n.d. Web. 27 Nov. 2011. <http://www.bolshevik.org/mumia/AffidavitbyArnoldRBeverly.html>. Hearings Before the Committee on the Judiciary, United States Senate, One Hundred Second Congress, First Session, on the Nomination of Clarence Thomas to be Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States. October 11,12 ,and 13, 1991, Part 4 of 4. Washington, DC: Government Printing Office, 1993. 5-10, 157-158. Brotherson, William. "Anwar al-Awlaki & Modern Lynching." Indybay-Santa Cruz 14 Nov. 2011: 1. Print.


Brotherson 12 Appendix: Table 2-5. The Reasons Given for Black Lynchings

• • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • •

Acting suspiciously Gambling Quarreling Adultery Grave robbing Race hatred; Race troubles Aiding murderer Improper with white woman Rape Arguing with white man Incest Rape-murders Arson Inciting to riot Resisting mob Assassination Inciting trouble Robbery Attempted murder Indolence Running a bordello Banditry Inflammatory language Sedition Being disreputable Informing Slander Being obnoxious Injuring livestock Spreading disease Boasting about riot Insulting white man Stealing Burglary Insulting white woman Suing white man Child abuse Insurrection Swindling Conjuring

• • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • •

Kidnapping Terrorism Courting white woman Killing livestock Testifying against white man Criminal assault Living with white woman Throwing stones Cutting levee Looting Train wrecking Defending rapist Making threats Trying to colonize blacks Demanding respect Miscegenation Trying to vote Disorderly conduct Mistaken identity Unpopularity Eloping with white woman Molestation Unruly remarks Entered white woman's room Murder Using obscene language Enticement Non-sexual assault Vagrancy Extortion Peeping Tom Violated quarantine Fraud Pillage Voodooism Plotting to kill Voting for wrong party Frightening white woman Poisoning well

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