Averted Lynching Project
What triggers waves of group violence, and what brings them to an end? This initiative seeks to better understand the lynching of nearly 3,000 African Americans by white vigilante mobs in the Southern United States between 1880 and 1930. The innovation of this initiative is its conceptualization of lynching as only one possible result of the process of mob formation. That is, this research seeks to understand the conditions under which mobs of whites set out to kill African Americans, not, as in previous work, the more limited set of events in which these mobs were able to carry out their lethal designs. For this study, researchers collected data on averted lynching events from contemporary newspaper accounts: events in which a vigilante mob formed with the express purpose of killing a specific individual, but was prevented from doing so. This set of averted lynching events was combined with existing lynching data to form a new inventory of mob formation events in three states: Mississippi, Georgia, and North Carolina. Analysis of this inventory shows that the motivation and opportunity that together sparked the lynching era emerged out of the political turmoil of the period -- the counter-revolutionary struggle of Southern "redeemers" against the "carpetbagger" governments of Reconstruction and the resulting disenfranchisement of African Americans and the construction of the Jim Crow segregation regime. After the turn of the century, with the architects of disenfranchisement fully entrenched in power, governments across the South dramatically stepped up efforts to quash lynch mob activity, and by 1930, lynching has become a rare practice once again due to these efforts and the decreasing propensity of mob formation.