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Posts: 70

You’ve seen some horrific images today. It’s difficult to imagine a society where such images were commonplace and were used as postcard images to be sent to friends.

If you are interested in looking at the archive of lynching photographs, assembled as part of the exhibition (and accompanying book) Without Sanctuary: Photographs and Postcards of Lynching in America that toured American museums in 2000, you may spend some time visiting this site: warning: these photographs, like the ones we saw in class, are highly disturbing.And at the end of the day, what I hope you will focus on is not the tortured bodies of the victims but on the facial and body language of the bystanders/perpetrators.

There were folks who objected to lynchings and who tried to do something about it. You have Ida B. Wells-Barnett’s crusading journalism and her steadfast advocacy that something had to be done to stop these lynchings.You have Eleanor Roosevelt’s response (on the handout I distributed) and her description of FDR’s suggestion as to what to do about it. You heard Billie Holiday’s vocalizing the lyrics of Abel Meeropol’s song, Strange Fruit.

You also saw the faces of the onlookers, the writings of the witnesses sending “mementos” to their friends and families. Try to imagine what was inside the heads of these people. Note: there were men, women, and children present at many of these lynchings.

Now it’s your turn. You are to post on the following:

What, constructively, could have been done to address and to stop the act of lynching in the late nineteenth and twentieth centuries? Remember that lynching did not end until the 1960s.One could argue that it has continued well into the 1990s in the cases of James Byrd in Jasper, Texas (who was attached by a chain to the back of a pickup truck and dragged for miles until his body disintegrated and he died—see, and Matthew Shepard (hog-tied to a fence in sub-zero temperatures) in Laramie, Wyoming (you may remember our school’s production of The Laramie Project and for more info, .

What would you have done, assuming your goal was to end lynching? What would you have done about it? What would you do about it now?

Posts: 23

I would like to start with stating that even the idea of lynching is so vile and heinous I have a hard time wrapping my head around why anyone could just let this happen, let alone go and watch. It really just makes me sick.

If I were just a citizen, with no outstanding political power, I would probably do something along the lines of Ida B. Wells. I would try my very best to enlighten my community and help foster the change. FDR said that that the only way these crimes would ever stop is if the people learned that it was wrong. Who will teach them? He said if the pressure came from the North, the South would feel antagonized. What about the civil war? Change never happens without a driving force. We've seen that most protests start with the young people, especially nowadays. If I'd been around back then, something like that would've been harder to mobilize, but it certainly could've been possible. Certainly today it would happen.

I personally believe that anyone involved with lynching should be tried and convicted to no less than accessory to murder if under the age of 16. As for reparations, I think there should be monuments for all of the victims and the history of lynching in America should be taught in at least a middle school history/social studies curriculum.

Posts: 15

I am not a bystander.

Looking at these lynching photos alone are absolutely terrible and heart wrenching. I could only imagine how families and friends of these victims felt as they slowly lost their humanity. It makes me so angry to see smiling faces in the foreground of a photograph of a person's death. There's just something so wrong about it. Despite the multiple reactions and emotions elicited from these photos today, I'm not really sure what I would do at the time.

To have any type of power in that time, you would have to be a white man. For me, I would choose to work alongside other black activists and join groups such as the NAACP and try to work with legislation to not only stop lynching but to get justice for the victims. Just as Eleanor Roosevelt attempted to do. Though I know the attempts would be fatal, I would do whatever it takes to stop them. Hide the victims in my home or help them escape outside of town. Create a loud enough public outcry so that the government would be forced to take action. I wouldn't have to make a large difference but hopefully I could save some lives with the power and resources I have. I couldn't imagine watching an innocent man die.

Just a couple decades later, though lynching has stopped it doesn't mean we can ignore it. Proper reparations are due to families who lost their loved ones and there should be memorials and museums to educate people on the blaring issue. It should be part of our history curriculums for high schools students so as to commemorate the victims. If we aren't angry about it and left uneducated, we aren't doing proper justice by them.

Posts: 25

Where Is The Justice?

I think that people could have paid a lot more attention to the mass murders taking place across the land of the free, one that promotes safety for you and me. Local police should have been MADE to step in, instead of letting it happen or worse joining in. Articles should've been published documenting these atrocities and at least publishing police reports. Finally, the perpetrators should face some form of punishment, if not the one they deserve something to show those victims were human beings and that was murder. The sale of those disgusting trophies and p\postcards should’ve been banned.

*I am assuming that I am still 17, a student, and living in Boston, MA since that is the best reality I can apply*

Lynching was one of the greatest atrocities committed at such a modern time it makes me sick to think about. I would love to believe I would be a brave crusader, fearlessly trying to stop mobs and saving those innocent victims. The truth is that kind of anger and mob mentality scares me to my core. I don’t have a talent for calming crowds, so I would have turned to the only option: writing.

I would have written articles, papers, and whole books until the country finally woke up to the continued mass murder of African Americans for the mildest of “crimes” like having smallpox.

I would have gone to courtrooms or places of law and questioned how a judicial system that preaches “no man is above the law” could allow mobs of drunken white men to carry out “justice” in the form of burning and hanging men, women, and children.

I would try and get testimonies from victims' families, but respect the danger that could pose to them. I would try to find the perpetrators just to record these abominations so that someone, somewhere, someday, would bring these families justice.

What can I do about it now? That’s the toughest question. I have no idea what to do to heal the past, educating the present, or protect the future. I am ashamed at what little I knew about lynching before this week. I knew of it, but I had no idea the magnitude, brutality in the people watching and profiting, and the normality of it all. That’s what scared me the most. When these things happened there was a buzz, like when parade passes through the city, but not the earth shattering horror I thought they were coming far between. I need to visit this incredible museum that my brother saw on his pilgrimage down south and sobbed for about an hour. I need to watch the news to see if these victims ever get justice, and to share these images when I’m told how over dramatic the counts of life with Jim Crow were. I will educate myself and pass that on to whoever I can, and I will pray for the victims and their families. I know that thoughts and prayers are such a weak response to tragedy, but I really don’t know what else I can do.

Posts: 29

Be an upstander

Lynching was a horrible practice and cases we studied were severely illegal but also immoral. The fact that people would use photos of lynchings as postcards to send to your friend is truly disturbing. In a way, the postcard market glorified lynching, making it seem “just” and “deserved” and a “celebration” when in reality it was the polar opposite.

The government could have taken action by having policemen watching every bridge and park in each state making sure nobody would be lynched. Also they could have enforced punishment on those who lynched others, making a consequence, thus less lynchings would occur. In the case of Laura and Lawrence Nelson, they were taken away from their prison cell and lynched when they weren’t even found guilty of the crime. Why was there not better supervision of the prison? They definitely could have guarded prisons with much more care and emphasis because that should not have even been able to happen. All in all, the government should have stepped in and taken affirmative action instead of letting this situation continue.

To end lynching, personally I would boycott postcards and try to convince others to do the same. If postcards went out of business and caused uproar, more would probably realize just how horrific those photos were. Another thing I would do would be to set up a protest. The protest would catch the attention of government officials and ill minded citizens and if they saw that a lot of people opposed this practice, then they would realize how awful lynching is. Lastly, I would post posters to raise awareness of the issue at hand.

Nowadays, the practice of lynching has stopped, however it is not well versed in school cirriculums. It would be great if schools could teach about it to raise awareness of what happened. Also, museums should open a wing honoring those whose lives ended way too early due to lynching. Another is that families who lost loved ones should be given a platform to spread social justice and educate those who didn’t learn enough about lynching. All in all, reparations are way past due and should be given now.

Regina Phalange
Posts: 19

Don't erase history

As shown by the horrific pictures that we looked at in class, lynching was a monumental problem. Clearly it must have seemed nearly impossible to do something about lynching when there were thousands of people willing to recreationally witness someone being killed. If I was faced with the task of addressing lynching, my priority would be organization of people with similar ideas. There were people who opposed lynching, so my solution would be to establish safe places for them to meet and organize a movement against lynching. This is important because, as we discovered when we researched the stories behind the postcards, many times the mayors and sheriffs of the town were in the crowd as they were perpetrators or bystanders. When the people who are supposed to be enforcers of the law are also participating in the wrongdoing, it can make those who oppose it feel as though they need to hide. To fight this, I would encourage the exchange of ideas between people who opposed it in order to give them the courage to start a more widespread movement.

Today, I think that it is really important that we learn about lynching in history class. I had never even heard of racially-motivated lynching until 6th grade because my music teacher played us "Strange Fruit," and I don't think I've ever discussed it in another history class. It is just as important as any other topic in U.S. history, and it is necessary that we fight back against the erasure of history that portrays the U.S. in a negative light. Additionally, it is certainly necessary to contract more memorials to the victims of lynching. The main priority should be to preserve this history by all means necessary in order to recognize it and learn from it.

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Posts: 31

Originally posted by borne on January 15, 2020 17:03

I personally believe that anyone involved with lynching should be tried and convicted to no less than accessory to murder if under the age of 16. As for reparations, I think there should be monuments for all of the victims and the history of lynching in America should be taught in at least a middle school history/social studies curriculum.

I definitely agree with borne on this matter. The bystanders and perpetrators need to be dealt with legally. This is murder. These are hate crimes. They need to be dealt with as they are, and not simply just a "mob" etc. These lynchings also should be taught differently in schools and need to be told truthfully and not sugar coated. This is our history, it's time to face it.

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Posts: 31

Horrible, Disgusting, Unacceptable.

Laws could have been implemented that prohibited whites from getting away with this brutality. There also needed to be something that made a cultural change as well, something that would make people understand that lynching isn’t ‘punishment for convicted crimes’, its a hate crime to dehumanize and brutally murder African Americans. If there were laws that would prosecute every bystander as an accesory to murder, and the actual perpetrators for murder, then lynching would have been less frequent and most likely less socially acceptable. We also would need a change in law enforcement, as policemen and officers would allow these mobs to take the black men out of jail at their discretion.

It is totally and utterly appalling that these lynchings were so mainstream and publicized, and even commercialized. It is more shocking that most Americans are unaware of these horrors of lynching and I blame that on educational malpractice (similar to the failure to educate Americans on what slavery was actually like). If education on these topics was adequate, then lynching wouldn’t have been so accepted as a part of their society.

What I would have done would be educating people, like Ida B. Wells did, and spread awareness of the horrors of lynching. I need to emphasize, the horrors of lynching. This seems necessary because as shown by the facial expressions of white bystanders in these photographs, lynching seemed completely and morally okay with them. I would have also brought justice and prosecuted those who were present and involved in the lynching of these over 3,500 African Americans from 1877 to 1990.

The least we can do is face our history, learn f4om it, and spread awareness and empathy. That is one thing all of us facing students can do right now. I know I’ve already shown many family members pictures from these horrendous crimes against humanity and told them the history of it all, and to sum it up, everyone is shocked, surprised, and occasionally don’t believe that these atrocities happened in our country less than 100 years ago.

Posts: 22


It’s really difficult to say what any of us would have done in a situation like this widespread epidemic of lynching that happened in our country. Reading Eleanor Roosevelt’s letter, I think that there should have been definitive executive action to combat these lynchings. They were obviously vile and illegal, and the fact that the White House did not any formal acknowledgment of what was happening or condemn it in any way is unsettling. As for myself, I like to believe that I would have been an upstander, and spoke out about injustices that I saw at any point I was able to do so. I would try to spread the message about the atrocity of these crimes by writing, and do anything I could to ensure the safety of all those around me. I would try to get justice for the victims, and seek to convict the perpetrators of these crimes.

The fact that postcards and “souvenirs” from these lynchings were sold in stores like Woolworth’s shows just how normalized these lynchings really were. The fact that people attended lynchings for date nights or as family outings was something that disgusted me even more when talking about these issues.

One thing that also stood out to me while reading this assignment, I hadn’t even considered the murder of Matthew Shepard to be a lynching, despite being very familiar with the crime. I think that this plays into the idea that lynching must be under certain conditions, and only happened in certain areas of the country during a certain time period. I think that there is a misconception that lynching was and is an issue that only affected the African American community, but through what we’ve seen and talked about in class makes it apparent that that is not the case. Lynching is not just an issue that impacts one community, and it is not an issue that is confined to the past.

I think that one of the most important tools that we have in our modern world is education. We have access to an endless abundance of resources, and I think that we need to use them in the current day to make sure we are aware of the gruesome history of our country and what happened here less than 100 years ago. Personally, I had never seen such graphic pictures of lynchings, and they honestly made my stomach turn. They were incredibly uncomfortable to look at. And I think that is important. There is a need for discomfort, when learning about these events in our history. I think that everyone should see the photos that we saw, in order to truly try to understand these atrocities.

Posts: 19

Education and Government Intervention as the Answer

Soemnthing that would have enacted a huge change would be laws against lynching and the enforcement of these laws. There was nothing stopping these white people from acting in the terrible and cruel ways they were. We heard about cases today in class of whites accusing innocent black men and women of crimes they simply did not commit. In one story, a white mob raided a jail in Duluth, Minnesota in order to lynch a group of black men, accused of a crime with little evidence to support it. The police, standing outside the jail, were told to remain unarmed and the mob was met with little resistance when trying to get inside the jail were these black men were being held. The government and the police has little respect for the lives of many African Americans. The people in these towns as well were clearly unaffected by the lynchings. Nobody seemed morally inclined to do anything to stop it from happening. In fact, people came to watch it like a sports game. In pictures, you can see white men, women, and children standing around the body they just hung, smiling. The white families felt no sympathy towards the African Americans they killed, nor were they scared to do so as we learned by how big an event lynchings were. If the people were not afraid that they would be reprimanded for what they were doing, and they didn’t feel bad, then they weren’t going to stop. What white people might actually fear is legitimate government enforcement against lynching. If people felt that they would be punished for doing something unlawful, then there would be a much greater chance for the lynching rates to go down.

If I were alive then, I would like to say I would speak out. Those that did are extremely brave considering the risks they took when doing so. I know saying I would speak out is easier said than done because when you are in an environment like that you are risking your life to save others. That being said, I really do want to say that I would speak out against it, be an advocate for change, like Ida B. Wells. I cannot imagine watching people being hung for people to watch and not wanting to take any action. That is what I find sick, the fact that people actually enjoyed watching people suffer. I also would’ve used education as a strategy to take down lynching. I would’ve tried to teach others, especially younger children, that killing innocent people is not how humans should act. When a black man is accused of committing a crime, he is entitled to a fair and just trial like every other white man. Even today I think education is the most important thing that we can do. We should not feel like we have to protect kids about this. It happened, and we can’t sugarcoat it. I think once children reach the age of eight, they are ready to start hearing about some of the realities of slavery and segregation. Children are the future leaders of our country, and if we teach them how to treat others from a young age, we can make a massive impact on the way our government and our society reacts to racial injustices further into the future. Government intervention is a huge part of how our country can deal with racism today, meaning if we can alter the way our government handles matters of racism, we can alter our society as a whole.

Posts: 17

Facing Lynching

As I began to think about what could be done, I realized that most of the solutions I thought of had already been tried, and had been unsuccessful. First I thought that petitioning to local and state governments to pass anti-lynching legislation would be effective, but as we saw with Eleanor Roosevelt’s response to Walter White’s letter asking FDR to do something about the situation and his refusal, it would not be effective. All of the politicians were white and their supporters were most likely the people who carried out lynchings, and they did not want to lose their favor. For them, their power and position as a politician was more important than the lives of their black citizens.

I also considered education as a means to put an end to lynching. The piece of Ida B. Well’s autobiography that we read was extremely informative and effectively shows how lynching is, essentially, a genocide against black people in America. She also points out the hypocrisy of lynching in a “Christian nation,” where, presumably, everyone would be caring for each other. I think educating the general public, in particular the people who attend the lynchings, about the senseless violence that African Americans face, as well as about them and their culture to dispel negative stereotypes, could be effective. Through this education, people may slowly stop attending lynchings, and there would be less of a motivating factor for people who make lynchings a big community event to do them in the first place.

Another thought was to hold vigils for the victims of lynchings. This would call attention to the lives that were lost and put emphasis on the fact that these people who were senselessly killed were human, not animals. Again, I’m not sure how effective this would be. The people who were okay with or committed lynchings were raised to believe they were superior to black people. As we have seen in real history, it has taken decades to put an end to lynching, and racism is still rampant throughout the country.

Posts: 21

bystanders of the murder of justice

Lynching is a terrible and disgusting crime. In almost every case, no authorities tried to stop it. For instance, in Allen Brooks’ case in 1910 he was forcefully removed from his trial by an angry mob, which led to him being lynched.

Since lynching was such a widespread act in the 19th and 20th centuries, it would have been hard to completely get rid of it, especially in places where there was/is a lot of racist sentiment. Reaching out to people in power was definitely one way to try to stop and address lynching, but higher up politicians felt the need to be silent/ not even try to change legistlation in order to not lose white voters. Instead I would have proposed trying to start in the local government. They would have been a lot more accessible and more easily persuaded to change the law. In order to not be a bystander in this situation, a person would have had to actively protest the unlawful deaths that were occurring across the country. Many people simply thought that since it didn’t affect their community, they did not need to care. A mindset that screams: Let the perpetrators decide if they want to stop or not!

I would have actively protested at the state house against lynching and for creating hate crime laws. As mentioned in the New York Times article, many states did not have hate crime laws until very recently. Creating such laws in order to be able to better prosecute the criminals would have been my top priority.

While the past is terrifying, the present does not explain it or even touch upon it enough for the children of this country to properly understand our history and how we got to where we are today. Spreading awareness by teaching about such incidents in history class would be helpful for properly educating children. In addition to that, there should of course by more memorials for the victims put up to honor them. Preferably this would be done in the towns were the people were lynched, in order for the community to properly grieve and also apologize and acknowledge what happened there. The victims are proof of the “free” and “just” America’s dark history and continuing denial of this.

Posts: 13

What I Could Have Done

Assuming I had the power I would pass laws that made lynching illegal and any bystander can be prosecuted for not doing something. Although that sounds like a good idea I know full well that that law will have the least amount of impact because the people who are lynching think they are above the law. The best course of action would be to educate everyone as to the horrors and truth of lynching hoping they will see how awful it is and not continue the tradition. As well as make a law that sates that any kid present their parents can be punished to prevent kids from seeing this as a regular thing. I would also convince the priest or reverends at the head of churches to speak against lynching, as an unrepentable sin, as many lynch mobs were religious. This would make it so any religious persons who would regularly attend lynching think twice because they would be going against the church as well as committing a sin that they cannot repent for.

If I had to do something about it today i would do something similar, I would try to educate the younger generations of the horror and cruelty that is lynching. I would also get laws to prevent such acts or any other acts of vigilante justice that have even the slightest hint at being raced based. Even doing all this lynching were something that happened outside the law and people didn't care how cruel it was they did it anyway. It happened so often in the 19th and 20th centuries because people who didn't car for blacks and they thought they were above the law even threatening officers and sheriffs in some cases. If I could do something that Is that best I could do and hope that people catch on, and that the laws against lynchings are actually followed and the perpertators prosecuted.

Posts: 16

The hate that runs deep in our history

Lynching has been a horrible and cruel act done to the black community. These harsh and disgusting acts were 100% unnecessary. Lynching could have been addressed more if the higher authorities took notice in how unjust these acts were instead of turning the other cheek. It also could have been addressed more if those witnessing these acts actually looked and realized how wrong it was. White families stood and watched these horrifying acts of murder as if they were watching a television show. Black lives being unfairly taken away from them is not a form of entertainment. If I had the opportunity to stop lynching I don’t really know what I would do because it seems that nothing would be enough. The white people have this particular hate for black people specifically men and that same hate run deeps in the history. It is hard to prove to people that you are just as deserving of living as they are even though the pigment of your skin is darker than theirs. I do believe that I would continuously fight by writing letters to higher authority in hopes that they see the clear injustice and I would use my voice and speak of evil of this act in hopes to stop it. I don’t really think there was much to do about it though with this country’s past and present treatment of black people. I think that the only thing we can do today is pray that this doesn’t happen again. I think we need to educate everyone about the real history of lynching and oppression of black people and fix unjust laws target black people. But first I think as a country everyone needs to stop seeing “criminal” when they lay eyes on a black person and see “human”.
Posts: 17

Calm against the storm

Looking at the pictures of lynchings and hearing the details my classmates researched and shared was heartbreaking. It is horrifying to me that people can treat others like sub human beings and feel proud about it. I think the only constructive way to attempt to address and stop the act of lynching in the late nineteenth and twentieth centuries would be to stay calm. It is hard to act reasonable when looking at these images and having to deal with clearly deranged people committing these crimes. However, the only way to make a change would be to refrain from hysterics and make solid changes. The two changes I would have attempted to make to end lynching would have been stopping propaganda in newspapers and allowing less corruption in police and local government. I think by taking away the power from racists within these fields, you could stop them from spreading their racist propaganda. I would have attempted to do something like Rev. John A. Williams, the first president of the local chapter of the NAACP and publisher of the Monitor, a weekly black paper. After the description of a black man as a “black beast” in an article published by the Omaha Bee led to the lynching of William Brown, Rev. John A. Williams called upon the editors of the Bee and the Daily News to stop their propaganda. Calling on righteous people in power to bring down racist people in power would be the key in stopping lynching. To reduce the corruption in police departments I think screening officers very well and making them take a polygraph exam on their views would greatly reduce corruption. In terms of local government, I think it would be important to elect officials who ran on good morals and ideas of equality. I do know that that would be a lot to ask of Americans in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries but maybe even by enacting these changes now, we could make a difference.

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