Lest we forget: The Equal Justice Initiative today released a report that documents 3,959 "racial terror lynchings" throughout 12 Southern states over the 1877 to 1950 period. That's "at least 700 more lynchings of black people in these states than previously reported," reports the EJI in what it calls "the most comprehensive work done on lynching to date," the result of four years of research. The New York Times reports that in 1882, the Chicago Tribune started annually publishing a list of the prior year's lynchings; the Tuskegee Institute and NAACP published lists in the early 20th century, and researchers in 1995 used all the existing documentation to create a master list. As for the 700 names that hadn't previously been recorded, one of those 1995 researchers, EM Beck, says that the definition of a lynching varies from list to list (the EJI's includes some "one-time massacres of large numbers of African-Americans," per the Times).
But "if you're trying to make a point that the amount of racial violence is underestimated, well then, there's no doubt about it," says Beck. The report asserts the lynchings were a form of terrorism, writing they "were not 'frontier justice' because they generally took place in communities where there was a functioning criminal justice system that was deemed too good for African Americans." Further, "racial terror lynching was ... a tactic for maintaining racial control, not merely punishment of an alleged perpetrator for an alleged crime." The report illustrates some of the social grievances men were lynched for: knocking on a white woman's door (General Lee, 1904, Reevesville, SC) and bumping into a white woman while running to catch a train (Jeff Brown, 1916, Cedar Bluff, Miss.). The EJI hopes to erect memorials or markers at some of the lynching sites; the Guardian reports few currently exist and notes that EJI Director Bryan Stevenson expects challenges in terms of securing funding and approval. (Read more lynching stories.)