New York – Nearly 4 000 black victims were lynched in 12 states in the southern United States from 1877 to 1950, an average of more than one a week for 73 years, a new study revealed on Tuesday.
The Equal Justice Initiative, a human rights group in Alabama, spent years researching what it called racial terrorism and visited countless sites where the brutal murders took place.
It documents 3 959 lynchings in Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas and Virginia.
The Justice Initiative says it found 700 more victims than any previous study into the thousands of black men, women and children who were lynched in the South in this period.
It documented how thousands of white Americans, including elected officials, gathered to watch public lynchings that saw victims tortured, mutilated and dismembered.
Postcards featuring photographs of the corpse were produced, vendors sold food, spectators sipped lemonade and whiskey, and victim’s body parts distributed as souvenirs, the report said.
The report called “racial terror lynching” a tactic to victimise the entire African American community, not merely punish an alleged perpetrator.
It said hundreds of victims were murdered without being accused of a serious crime, but for minor affronts such as refusing to step off the sidewalk or bumping into a white woman.
Nearly 25% of lynches were based on charges of sexual assault, and the mere accusation of rape, even without an identification by the alleged victim could arouse a lynch mob.
Not a single white person was convicted of murder for lynching a black person in America during this period, the report said.
Faced with the constant threat of harm, the report said nearly six million black Americans fled the South between 1910 and 1970, flocking to urban ghettos in the northern and western United States.
The report said lynching reinforced a legacy of racial inequality that has never been adequately addressed in America.
“Lynching profoundly impacted race relations in America and shaped the geographic, political, social, and economic conditions of African Americans in ways that are still evident,” it said.
Blacks are still disproportionately more likely to be arrested, convicted of a crime, jailed and sentenced to death in the United States.
The Justice Initiative now intends to raise money and erect monuments to honour the victims.
“Avoiding honest conversation about this history has undermined our ability to build a nation where racial justice can be achieved,” the report said.